The concept of comfort, both physical and psychological, pervades Hemingway’s short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” in various ways. To begin, the central characters of the story, Harry and Helen, are used to lives of comfort and luxury, but find themselves on an ill-fated African safari during which Harry is suffering from an infected leg injury. These are “Old Westbury, Saratoga, Palm Beach people” (1023) who have become blasé to the über-rich lifestyle and have embarked on a semi-rustic adventure, although the supply of alcohol and the presence of an abiding servant prove that attempts have been made to provide the same level of comfort that they are used to.
The physical discomfort that the injury provides is almost unimaginable, and yet as the story continues, the infection appears to spread from the physical injury to a greater, psychological infection that Harry must face. The relationship between the two characters is a source of discomfort for the reader, as Harry and Helen are constantly bickering and the relationship proves to be completely one-sided. Harry slips into “the familiar lie” of telling Hellen that he truly loves her before callously exclaiming, “You bitch. You rich bitch” (1025). Looking back on his life, Harry is full of regret from the choices he made to live in the moment, marrying rich and enjoying Helen’s lavish lifestyle, rather than remaining true to the woman he actually loved. Additionally, his flashbacks expose more psychological discomfort as Harry feels he has wasted his life by not writing about the things “he cared about” (1033). Harry feels the discomfort of a writer leaving stories untold. The ultimate discomfort comes during Harry’s death scene, as the force moves closer and closer to his cot, before finally crushing him under its weight “so he could not move, or speak” (1035). The image of death slowly encroaching upon a powerless Harry before suffocating him as he lies on his cot is hauntingly uncomfortable. In both the physical and psychological realms, Harry’s discomfort pervades the story, and by the end the reader knows that his wish to “die as comfortably as he can” (1022) will go unfulfilled.