Ernest Hemingway and the Snows of Kilimanjaro

Ernest Hemingway rode his way into the world via white elephant in 1899. Norton reveals that his birthplace was Oak Park, Illinois and that he lived with five other siblings.  After working for the Kansas City Star newspaper company, he decided to join the fury of World War I as an ambulance driver. When he returned to America, he was revered for the fact that he had saved someone’s life, a virtual war hero. After the war, he traveled to different parts of the globe with his wife, Hadley Richardson, including Paris, where he was to meet literary artists who would inspire him in the craft. Turns out Mr. Fitzgerald was one of his mentors. Though successful as a writer, he suffered from depression in his late years, tragically killing himself in 1961 due to a self-inflicted gun shot wound.

As for the books Hemingway is remembered by, they include The Sun Also Rises (1926), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), A Farewell to Arms (1929), and The Old Man and the Sea (1952). The old man who went to sea fished out a Nobel Prize as well as a Pulitzer Prize for Hemingway. Ernest is often praised for his crisp and concise dialogue between characters, making it easy for readers to comprehend. However, one must not be content with surface dialogue. Hemingway is connected with the literary theory of minimalism; minimalists try to state things as simply as possible (and as short as they can) but somehow make the reader guess as to what the characters imply. In other words, the reader must think about the simple statements the author makes and glean meaning from them on their own.    This link gave me some more info on Hemingway, about how some of the themes he likes to delve into include the disillusionment of post WW1 society (sounds just like T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”), the relationships between men and women, the ideal of courage and honesty in a dishonest and cowardly world, and the loss of faith one may experience due to turmoil. And Hemingway did wrestle with one author: William Faulkner. Apparently, they both sent letters to each other, talking about how each was a terrible writer. If you would like to learn more, here’s a link to a lecture about the letters:

Now to the short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.”  This story was okay for me; my favorite part occurs at the end, when Hemingway puts the reader into a sort of fantasy land with Harry traveling to Kilimanjaro (would this symbolize a journey to the afterlife?). Yet Hemingway turns the reader’s attention to the woman waking to find Harry dead on the ground, her heart beating fast with fear. The world Harry goes to is peaceful, while his wife is still trapped in a world of pain and suspense? What do you think?

I definitely can glean connections to other works we’ve read. First, there is the quote on page 1080 about how the rich drink too much and play too much backgammon. Seems like this links with “Babylon Revisited,” about how the rich can squander their lives through excess of alcohol and money.  There are also sexual innuendoes between Harry and his wife, about how Harry wants to destroy his wife in bed (Devin’s inner sexuality growls). This can complement Stanley’s sexual advances in A Streetcar named Desire. Like Stanley, Harry exemplifies the typical male persona of the 20th century: tough and arrogant. The passages in italics remind me of the one in Hughes’s poem “Mulatto.” Hemingway is following in the footsteps of modernists to portray a character’s thought processes through italics. The reader is entering into the character’s inner psychology.

One thesis could center on the fact that Hemingway’s life as a writer can compare to Harry’s (Hemingway and Harry both struggle with the sense that they did not accomplish everything they wished as writers). This would be considered a form of biographical criticism, since the writer is comparing the author’s life to one of their characters. One quote that could help support this thesis is the following: “He has sold vitality, in one form or another, all his life and when your affections are not too involved…No, he would not write that, although it was well worth writing” (1073).

Here are some closing questions:

  1. What is Hemingway’s point in providing the reader with Harry’s thoughts of the past? How does he narrate the story?
  2. Does Hemingway view death positively or negatively, in terms of this story?
  3. What do you think of Harry’s relationship with his wife?
  4. What connections do you see between Harry’s life and Hemingway’s?

An Oriental Frame Tale

In 1704, Great Britain was introduced to a series of stories written years before: The Arabian Nights (the 1001 Nights). No one knows who authored the tales. But Richard F. Burton was the man who was primarily responsible for introducing them to the English public. I came across these stories in my first creative writing class in tenth grade, though I never finished them. But in the summer of 2010, I did. I could definitely use a reread, especially when it comes to the tales of Sinbad and Judar. Yet I enjoyed most of the stories, especially “The Fisherman and the Jinnee,” which inspired one of my short stories “The Wrath of Kabal.” The stories constitute a frame tale, which by definition is when there are many short stories that interlope together in one book, one leading to another (“stories within stories”). I personally believe the book is an instance of metafiction as well, which is a narrative that comments on storytelling itself. I have a general theory of this book and the novel: the book shows us how, formulaically speaking, a group of short stories can be the framework of a novel. If beginning writers start off with short stories, then they will have decent practice before tackling a novel. You could treat each chapter, in a sense, like a short story, and then get an idea as to how a novel is structured. If you read Agatha Christie’s short story collections and compare them with the Poirot novel The Big Four or read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, you might see what I mean.

King Shahryar, enraged at his wife’s adultery, goes on a killing spree: he executes every woman in his path, believing them all to be conniving and wicked. One night, he tells his new victim, Scheherazade, that he will soon kill her too. But the beautiful lady begs a chance to tell him stories to appease his wrath, which she most certianly does. The king is so pleased by her storytelling, he recants from his fury and marries her. His faith in the goodness of woman is restored. Feminists may enjoy using this collection of stories as an argument for early pro-female storytelling. Afterall, in ancient cultures, women were not always seen as second rate citizens.

When Scheherazade tells one story, a character in that story tells another, thus creating a long chain of tales. There are many different subjects the stories treat: greed, betrayal, love, sexuality, honor, wisdom, etc. Some are about jinnees, spirits who either fulfil their master’s wishes or violently slaughter people with long swords. Others are about  masculine adventures that involve women of high honor and integrity. Many of the stories have a religious base in Islam, constituting morality from the Koran. They can be seen, in one way, as a case of Islamic folklore. As far as setting goes, the tales occur in parts of the Middle East, China and Africa. They are “oriental” stories in that they tell of a deeply interesting subject to westerners in the 1700’s: the East, its culture and customs. There are instances of animal fables, where creatures such as donkies speak. Sinbad can be compared to the British Robinson Crusoe, for he, too, struggles with keeping his adventerous spirit in check and ends up sailing to dangerous places, unintentionally. There is also the popular tale of Aladdin and his lamp, similar and not so similar, to the Disney rendition. All these examples are just a part of what you’ll come across.