Tag Archives: Ernest Hemingway

Nature as a Godly Being in the Works of Hemingway

Many of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories and novels involve nature as a powerful influence in the lives of the characters, whether it is as the setting in Across the River and Into the Trees, in a more active role as the prey, such as in The Old Man and the Sea, or both, as depicted in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The quintessential outdoorsman himself, Hemingway’s early exposure to nature has significantly shaped his perception of the relationship between man and nature. In particular, Hemingway acknowledges the dualism present in nature: it provides sustenance, life, and gifts man with its resources—yet it plagues cities with its illnesses, drowns men in its turbulent seas, and steals the life out of the living. The power of nature is unrivaled, and its ability to give and take life echoes the qualities of a godly being. A closer inspection of The Old Man and the Sea and The Snows of Kilimanjaro reveals that to Hemingway, nature giveth, and nature taketh.

The role of nature as a godly entity is most evident in Hemingway’s characters’ interactions with their environments. In The Old Man and the Sea, the elderly fisherman Santiago’s primary companion while on land is Manolin, his faithful apprentice who holds Santiago in the highest regard despite his ill fortune with fishing. Manolin praises Santiago with words such as, “There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you.” (The Old Man and the Sea, 25). However, as Santiago ventures out far into the ocean in search of a larger catch, his companion shifts to the ocean and wildlife around him. The relationship with his companion at sea is quite different from that which he experiences on land, and Santiago refers to the ocean as “something that gave or withheld great favours” (The Old Man and the Sea, 33). This thought hints at the godly role that nature plays, giving and taking.

Nature still acts as a godly entity in The Snows of Kilimanjaro to Henry, the protagonist dying from a gangrenous infection in the African wilderness, albeit with a relationship different from that found in The Old Man and the Sea. Henry has taken advantage of nature on an exotic hunting trip, killing wildlife for sport. In a seemingly punitive turn of events, Henry contracts gangrene from a cut, and death approaches him throughout the short story. Even in a literal sense, death approaches in the form of a hyena, as Henry perceived “vile-smelling emptiness and the odd thing was that the hyena slipped lightly along the edge of it” (Kilimanjaro 4). Henry ultimately dies from his infection, perhaps as punishment from nature for his wanton taking of nature’s resources. Nature appears to be more forgiving to Santiago, who fishes for a living, and lives a life of simplicity and gratitude. His respect for nature is obvious, as he speaks with great reverence and love for the ocean, as seen by his thought “…loved green turtles and hawk-bills with their elegance and speed and their great value and he had a friendly contempt for the huge, stupid logger-heads…” (The Old Man and the Sea, 40). In contrast to Henry’s gangrenous infection, Santiago receives the gift of the largest fish he has ever hooked for his long withstanding respect for nature. This form of reward and punishment delegated for devout followers and heretics by a larger entity is reminiscent of nature as a god-like entity.

The exploration of one’s own religion can increase the personal value of their belief system. As Leo Gurko astutely observes, the ocean similarly provides greater resources the further out one explores (Old Man and the Sea, 12). Santiago captures smaller tuna when he is closer to the shore, while he is quite far out at sea when he first hooks the swordfish—analogous to how one may find greater connection to their god(s) after further pursuing the depths of his/her religion, while a weaker relation to religion may yield fewer spiritual rewards. Santiago’s voyage may appear fruitless in terms of fish captured—yet his experience in sympathizing with the ocean and its creatures, and increased respect for nature is the significant spiritual reward.

Nature also consistently challenges man’s resolve in Hemingway’s works, quite similarly to God in biblical literature. In The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago finally manages to reel in the swordfish, when sharks attack his catch. It is possible to argue that the trials of the sea are merely due to the seemingly random, animalistic behavior that maintains the ecosystem. Santiago even mentions in passing that he perceives the sea to do “wild or wicked things” because “she could not help them”, and appears to regard the sea as an external variable that cannot be controlled or predicted, prone to random behavior (The Old Man and the Sea, 33). The old man fights valiantly against the onslaught of sharks, but is unable to protect his catch.  And yet, Santiago maintains his faith and trust for the sea, and discusses acquiring “a good killing lance” and plans for a future fishing expedition. Santiago’s resilience following this trial resonates with God challenging Abraham’s dedication by commanding him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Both Santiago and Abraham are challenged in their faith and perseverance respectively, and are able to rise above the trial. An alternate view could consider the herds of sharks as punishment from nature for hunting such a marvelous fish (Burhans, 2). However, it is more likely that the sharks were another test of Santiago’s resolve, as Santiago is rewarded with the ability to truly reflect on the spiritual value of his struggles and his relationship with the sea. He even bears the mast across his shoulders as he climbs back ashore from his expedition, suggesting Santiago to be a Christ-like figure, who has been tested for his faith and perseverance, and rewarded with enlightenment through trials (The Old Man and the Sea, 134). Though the essence of the challenges is quite different, one of determination and the other of faith, nature nonetheless challenges man in a godly manner.

It is also significant to note that Henry is also challenged by nature, as he is afflicted with gangrene on an African safari. Henry is unable to surmount this challenge, and witnesses the wildlife around him stirring to life as his dwindles away. Vultures orbit the campsite, and hyenas lurk in the perimeter—signs from nature foreshadowing his impending doom. Henry’s inability to survive raises the question: Why was Santiago able to withstand the challenge of nature, while Henry was not? The answer lies possibly in the difference in character between the two individuals. The appreciative, revering Santiago is cognizant of nature’s power and gifts, while Henry defiles nature by hunting rare animals for sport. Perhaps Harry is not worthy of nature’s challenge, and was accordingly punished by nature, while Santiago was rewarded for his reverence.

Santiago prays to God for luck on reeling in the enormous fish as he struggles, and is “feeling much better” regarding his circumstance after praying (The Old Man and the Sea, 72). Though Santiago may appear to be a religious individual, the explicit offhand mentions of religion in The Old Man and the Sea implicate nature as the central, overarching power rather than religion. Most notable is Santiago’s offer to “say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys” in the event that he reels in this fish. (The Old Man and the Sea, 71). To Santiago, religion is more of a peripheral existence in life rather than a deep-seated way of life to be abided by strictly (Heroic Impulse, 377). Such prayers are generally said following confession to a priest in Catholicism and are most likely present due to Hemingway’s Catholic upbringing. Perhaps the sea is Santiago’s church, where he comes to confess and absolve his sins. This further implicates nature, specifically the sea, as a sacred religious entity. To Hemingway, nature is a more appropriate entity to confess and pray to, rather than the church. Santiago’s willingness to casually exchange his devotion to God through prayer for luck in reeling in a fish demonstrates the lack of gravity God’s existence holds to him. He even remarks, “Hail Marys are easier to say than Our Fathers” (The Old Man and the Sea, 72). Santiago’s greatest concern in saying prayer is the ease with which they are said—a testament to the minor role of the typical concept of religion.

Henry’s final vision before his death also suggests the greater significance of nature as a religious entity over God. The classic imagery of death is a white light or tunnel, ascending to what is presumably heaven or some sort of afterlife. Instead of ascending towards the light, Harry envisions a beautiful natural landscape, “all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going.” (Kilimanjaro 7) To Henry, heaven was the peak of Kilimanjaro, which mirrors many qualities of heaven: brilliantly white, high, and encompassing. The concept of religion and God are surmounted by the brilliance and pervasiveness of nature in The Old Man and the Sea and The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

In these two works, nature resembles a god-like entity, and is a more focal existence than the typical concept of religion and God. Nature giveth, and nature taketh. Nature challenges the resolve of man, and yields greater depth when explored deeply. Santiago engages nature in conversation, in a one-sided dialogue resembling prayer to a higher power. It is clear that to the characters in Hemingway’s writings, nature is the driving force behind life and death. This in turn raises the question: Why is nature more powerful than God?

Hemingway’s exposure to nature and its sheer power and beauty are likely to have influenced his decision to implement nature as such a powerful force in his literature. Nature’s ability to influence the lives of individuals in drastic ways, and the aforementioned qualities nature possesses may have proved to be a more secular, concrete concept to believe in. Hemingway’s economic writing style suggests an underlying affinity for pragmatism and realism, making nature the more powerful and prevalent force in his works.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Burhams, Charles. The Old Man and the Sea: Hemingway’s Tragic Vision of Man. American Literature. 31. (1960). 446-455. 5 May, 2014.

Gurko, Leo. The Old Man and the Sea. College English. 17. (1955) 11-15. 5 May, 2014.

Gurko, Leo. The Heroic Impulse in “The Old Man and the Sea”. The English Journal. 44 (1995). 377-382. 5 May, 2014.

Hemingway, Ernest. “The Old Man and the Sea”. New York: Charles Schuber’s Sons, 1952. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest. The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Xroards Virginia, 2 February, 1998. 5 May, 2014. <http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/heming.html>

 

 

 

 

 

Revised Essay on Hemingway

Snows of Kilimanjaro

            It is safe to say that life is never as easy as many people would like it to be; and to make it through life, one must learn how to deal with the positives and negatives of life. There are few people that actually like dealing with anything negative, and even few that are able to remain optimistic in the face of adversity and tragedy. However, there are some people that usually always seem to find peace and optimism in given situations. Unfortunately, this type of attitude can sometimes make a situation more difficult to deal with than if the person were to put some motivation behind their actions instead of complacency with whatever the end result is. In the story The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway, we see how Hemingway uses this relationship to portray an even bigger theme that is: the brighter side of suffering. We can see this idea by the way Hemingway describes the actions of Harry and Helen during Harry’s sickness, and how he describes their actions as Harry come closer and closer to death.

Throughout The Snows of Kilimanjaro, we are presented with the characters of Harry and Helen. These two are in a relationship yet don’t always seem to be a legitimate match for each other. One major cause of this is because, as portrayed in his suffering, Helen seems to be someone whom is the worrier while Harry seems to have more complacency about the situation. We get some insight to this by many of their dialogues together and their past. “‘… I love you really, you know I love you. I’ve never loved any one else the way I love you.’ He slipped into the familiar lie he made his bread and butter by’” (Hemingway p. 1025). “After he no longer meant what he said, his lies were more successful with women that when he had told them the truth…. He had had his life and it was over and then he went on living it again with different…” (Hemingway p. 1026). “It wasn’t this woman’s fault. If it had not been she it would have been another. If he lived by a lie he should try to die by it” (Hemingway p. 1026). “He had traded it for security, for comfort too, there was no denying that, and for what else? He did not know… (Hemingway p. 1027). These quotes show that even though Harry was not the best person ethically for his reasons for dating, he would always appease his partner to feel good in his minuscule amounts of sufferings of being in relationships he no longer wanted to be in, yet he was complacent with remaining in a relationship with Helen. Versus Helen whom, through the previous tragedies (sufferings) in her life, simply did not want to be alone or bored in the world which made her seek love in someone else (brighter side): “But the lovers bored her. She had been married to a man who never bored her and these people bored her very much… Suddenly, she had been acutely frightened of being alone. But she wanted some one that she respected with her” (Hemingway p. 1027). These portrayals and ideas remain and almost get stronger as Harry’s condition worsens.

The final comparison between Harry and Helen, and how it portrays Hemingway’s idea of the brighter side of suffering, can be seen with how each of the deal with Harry’s final moments. Towards the end there are a few places where it can be argued that Harry actually passed versus what parts were simply dreamlike or after he died. In the parts leading up to his death, we as the readers are presented with a strong sense of suspense as death looms closer and more heavily on Harry It can be said that Harry’s time of actual death occurs when Helen no longer responds to him in their short and last dialogue together: “‘…You’re the most complete man I’ve ever know.’ ‘Christ.’ he said. ‘How little a woman knows. What it that? Your intuition?’” (Hemingway p. 1035). We are ironically given deaths introduction right after Harry says “Christ” and Helen no longer responds to Harry. Throughout his standoff with death however, Harry seems to focus more on the physicality of death rather than the fact that death has come for him, further showing his complacency with what he knows is to come. This is opposed to your average person whom would most likely freak out and be terrified that their life is about to end while also being terrified of death itself, rather than antagonize how it looks and how its breath smells as Harry does. However, we get a sense of peace and relief at the end of the section where it states “And then, while they lifted the cot, suddenly it was all right and the weight went from his chest” (Hemingway p. 1035). After Harry’s encounter with death, a new paragraph seemingly set apart from the previous section begins that seems hopeful. In this section, one could easily forget that it’s very possible that Harry just died in the previous section because this section is so optimistic and through the perspective of Harry. This is true even until the end when Hemingway subtly, clearly, and pleasantly reminds the readers that Harry has passed: “…all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going” (Hemingway p. 1038). This imagery has a sort of religious tone to it; more specifically it seems as Harry is being taken to Heaven at this point, making it a happy ending for him. Helen on the other hand is not as lucky and does not have such a happy ending. She is understandably hysterical because she has lost another important person in her life: “Then she said, ‘Harry, Harry!’ Then her voice rising, “Harry! Please, Oh Harry!’” (Hemingway p. 1037). She has a good reason to react in such a way, but it is a reaction regardless when she possibly could have been happy his suffering has ended.

Ultimately, through the use of these two characters and their interactions with one another, Hemingway effectively presents how there can always be a brighter side of suffering. While Harry has a more complacent attitude about his likely upcoming death throughout the story, Helen does not. We can see this through how they act as Harry’s infection spreads and how they act during Harry’s final moments and final moment. And even though this idea is not always directly stated, it holds when we pay attention to how the story progresses. This in turn keeps up with how Hemingway says he tries to write: “‘I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg… There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows’” (Hemingway p. 1019).

Revised: A Close Analysis of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

The protagonist of Ernest Hemingway’s, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” finds himself dying with a gangrenous infection, stranded in the African wilderness with his wife and several guides, facing imminent death. He responds to his wife’s genuine concern with sarcasm and nihilistic acceptance of death. It is easy to quickly dismiss Harry’s behavior as crass and tactless, especially from the dialogue. He even initially chooses to trivialize the direness of his situation, and makes unreasonable comments such as, “What about a drink?” and, “What the hell should I fool with broth for? Molo bring whiskey-soda,” to the great dismay of his wife. And yet, Harry appears to intermittently make kind remarks to his wife, such as , “You shoot marvelously, you know.”  Despite Harry’s appearance as a nihilistic and inconsiderate individual in Ernest Hemingway’s, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, the author’s usage of dialogue and flashbacks suggest the possibility of Harry  as a character with good intent.

To begin, a closer inspection of Harry’s behavior towards his wife will reveal a deep lack of ill will, and an attempt to reduce her suffering following his death. It is very much possible that Harry has internally accepted his fate from the beginning of the story. Perhaps he continually makes crude remarks that distress Helen to push her away from him as he approaches his demise, in an attempt to minimize the sense of loss that she will experience. When Helen hopefully suggests the possibility of trucks from the village arriving to rescue the members of the expedition, Harry promptly retorts with, “I don’t give a damn about the truck”. He follows this callous remark with, “You give a damn about so many things that I don’t.” On the surface-level, Harry’s comments are both insulting and upsetting to Helen. However, these utterances are prime examples of Harry attempting to soften the blow of his impending death. His nihilistic comments are a method of forcing Helen to accept his death, as acceptance is a significant part of the coping process (though in a latter stage). Harry’s attempts to convince Helen to acknowledge the difficult truth that he will die may be harsh and insensitive, but it is actually an indicator of Harry’s good will, and his desire for her to move on with life after his death. Other examples of this desire are reflected in his other comments such as, “Can’t you let a man die comfortably without calling him names?” and, “Don’t be silly. I’m dying now. Ask those bastards.” When he insults his wife for caring about too many things, Harry is chipping away at the relationship that has grown between them to reduce the impact of his death on her. When an elaborate, beautiful structure such as their relationship shatters suddenly with his death, the fallout will be massive, and Helen would be crushed. Other examples of this behavior include, “You rich bitch,” and, “Your damned money was my armour. My sword and armour.” Harry beginning to carve away at their relationship will render this structure scarred and crumbling, but the aftermath would be significantly less catastrophic. A deeper observation of Harry’s dialogue with Helen reveals a desire to reduce her suffering following his death, rather than callous remarks to increase her suffering.

Dispersed amongst Harry’s seemingly cruel comments is more overt evidence of his good will and care for Helen’s well-being. Despite being in severe pain, Harry is mindful enough to tell her that she, “better put her mosquito boots on,” out of concern for her health. Though it is easy to overlook, the pure selflessness and cognizance Harry demonstrates for Helen’s well-being is astonishing, given his own health circumstances. He also demonstrates genuine concern and care for Helen with his statement, “I love you, really. You know I love you.” The sporadic placement of his overtly caring comments amongst his more frequent negative comments creates an image of Harry attempting to push his wife away to reduce her future suffering, and attempt to instill in her an acceptance of death. However, one can speculate that Harry feels guilt for his cruelty, and it is in these instances that Harry makes an overtly empathetic, caring comment. Hemingway follows the aforementioned line with some insight into Harry’s cognition, which claims that his previous statement was a lie. However, this can also be perceived as Harry’s attempt to convince himself that he does not love Helen. To summarize this notion, Harry is in an emotional situation that is extremely difficult to navigate. He must overtly ridicule and distress his wife to reduce her future suffering, while he also attempts to convince himself that he does not love her, to reduce his own emotional suffering as he dies. The crassness of Harry’s comments belies his truly sensitive and well-meaning nature.

Not only does Harry’s present behavior truly demonstrate his core nature, but Harry’s behavior in the past as depicted through a flashback also further elucidates his capacity for good. When the bombing officer Williamson is gravely wounded, Harry, “gave him all his morphine tablets that he had always saved to use himself…” Harry makes an ultimate sacrifice: he parts with the one saving grace that would have massively dwindled the suffering of death by injury to help comfort his fellow soldier. Not only has Hemingway established Harry’s positive qualities in the present, but the flashbacks prove that Harry is, and has been a good man. It is obvious that Harry is perfectly capable of good, and his selfless behavior in the past serves as significant evidence of this trait.

Hemingway’s protagonist sacrifices for the sake of others in the past and present through the timeline of this short story, presented by the usage of dialogue and flashbacks. Sacrifice for the good of others is one of the supreme indicators of good will and selflessness, two traits that are not immediately perceptible in Harry. However, to completely overlook the sacrifices he has made could be a gross mischaracterization of the individual.

 

Comparison of Hemingway and Coover

“And then instead of going on to Arusha they turned left, he evidently figured that they had the gas, and looking down he saw a pink sifting cloud…like the first snow in a blizzard” (Hemingway, 1036)

“Your children are murdered, your husband gone, a corpse in your bathtub, and your house is wrecked” (Coover, 239)

The stories in “The Babysitter” couldn’t all have happened due to logistical problems some events pose. For example, on page 218 Jimmy goes to the bathroom and soaps the babysitter’s back, but later it is Mr. Tucker who soaps her back and is interrupted by Jimmy saying “I have to go to the bathroom” (225). Similarly, when Mr. Tucker goes back to the house to supposedly get aspirin, in one case he and the babysitter immediately embrace (218), but in another scenario it goes awkwardly wrong. “If you want to check on the kids, why don’t you just call on the phone?” (224). In the last act on page 239-40, Coover provides two drastically different endings. In one, the babysitter wakes up and Mrs. Tucker is pleasantly surprised that the dishes are done. In the other, the babysitter and Mrs. Tucker’s children are dead. Instinctively, we know both chain of events couldn’t have happened. However, we are not told which one is the correct version and moreover, it’s not important. One storyline is not meant to be reality and the others a myriad of unrealities. Rather, there is no distinguishing between reality and fantasy. By having the narratives broken up and dispersed around each other, we are meant to think that they all could have happened; that reality and fantasy are integral and inseparable.

The idea of reality and fantasy being indistinguishable is in Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” to a lesser degree. We know Harry never physically wrote about his adventures and observations, yet internally we feel as if he has partly written them through the monologues in his head. Everything that happens in the present is in normal font, whereas Harry’s brooding about the past occurs in italics. We know his plane ride didn’t really happen, as Harry dies beforehand and inconsistencies such as the plane not needing to be refueled hint that these events did not occur in the physical world. However, this part of the narrative is not in italics, thus we are led to believe that in some way or form, whether it was a hallucination or spiritual redemption, Harry did see Kilimanjaro.

Both authors tackle relations between the external world and the internal space of the mind. For Hemingway, the line between reality and imagination is one to be delicately crossed, whereas for Coover, the line doesn’t exist at all.

Illusions in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” Revised

Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” chronicles the agonizing death of Harry as gangrenous rot slowly consumes his leg during his vacation in Tanzania.  While incapacitated, he spends a great deal of the story contemplating his many relationships and experiences.  In doing so, he comes to terms with his most profound regret: not saving the time to write them down.  He attributes the majority of his underachievement to the caustic lifestyle embraced by the very wealthy, one of which he reaps the physical luxuries, but suffers great mental turmoil.  In order to cope with what he considers to be the acute failure in achieving his most torrid desires, he attempts to separate himself from reality in his narrative through the use of flashbacks as well as perceptual contortions of traditional aspects of human sentience such as love, death, and religion.

The first evidence seen of Harry’s separation from reality is through the use of his narrative flashbacks, which he uses to artificially satiate his regrets.  The syntax of the flashbacks consists of exhaustingly long-winded passages of seemingly stream-of-conscious description, which contrast sharply with the terse dialogue that dominates the rest of the story.  The physical events of each flashback blend into one another, contributing to the tone of haze and confusion throughout the story.  The shift in syntax, in addition to the visual distinction of italics, lets the passages take the form of dream sequences rather than truly chronological or realistic flashbacks.  As Harry’s condition worsens and he grows closer to death, the frequency of these passages greatly increases, in that the fourth, fifth and sixth flashbacks are separated only by sparse lines of dialogue.  Although the flashbacks are for the most part his own experiences, never does he assume the first person narrative.  Instead, he relieves the weight of his regrets by pushing them onto the reader through the use of the subject “you,” (Hemingway 1031) seen in both the fourth and fifth flashback.  In his anxiety of being unable to mend the mistakes of his past, his dreams begin to invade the physical plot, taking Harry farther away from the reality of his situation and closer to the successful reality he wish he had carried out.

Harry’s uneasiness with his death can also been seen through his relationship with his wife.  He is clearly unhappy with his relationship, emphasized through his comparison of their love to a “dunghill,” (Hemingway 1025).  Rather than honestly confront his wife with the his true unhappiness, he revises his true feelings with saccharine musings of love: “the familiar lie he made his bread and butter by.” (Hemingway 1025).  In the acknowledgement of his deception, Harry also acknowledges the truth in honesty, yet still retreats into a realm of duplicity.  In addition to his confession of the dishonesty of his relationship, Harry reacts to love by reversing its typical perception.  Because he sees the act of intercourse as a form of “destruction” (Hemingway 1028), it is clear that he rejects its primary purpose, that of creation.  This overthrow of traditional perception reveals his dismissal of reality.  Similarly, he describes his first encounter with love as a plague of sorts, one that he is “unable to cure himself of” (Hemingway 1029).  With these twisted conceptions of love, Harry abandons reality he falls deeper into his self delusion.

The concept of death plays a large role in the story and like love, it is distorted by the Hemingway’s narrative.  The entirety of the story chronicles Harry’s arduous demise; the sluggish nature of gangrene exhausts both Harry and the reader.  Furthermore, his death is illustrated in the blurring of reality and dreams; it is physically nothing more than the passive slipping away of breaths.  Harry describes death throughout the story in an abrupt manner devoid of emotion and specifics.  This style is exemplified through the statement in his first flashback, “those were the same Austrians they killed then that he skied with later” (Hemingway 1024).  The confusing nature of this line distorts the chronological flow of events and makes the definitive nature of death obscure.  A second illusion lies within the comparison of death to one of the hyenas of the plains which, “rests its head on the foot of the cot” (Hemingway 1035).  The scavenging hyena in this instance behaves in a manner similar to that of a familial dog.  This comparison is shown again with Harry’s assumption that he can simply “tell it to go away” (Hemingway 1035), a command normally heeded by a house pet.  Because death in the story is the major source of Harry’s anxiety, its association with the domestic canine implies security.  Harry’s shift of death to a familiar symbol of comfort displays another instance in which rejects transitional perceptions to appease his mental discomfort.

Harry’s greatest distortion of reality is in his perception of religion.  The epitaph that precedes the story is the first introduction religion, in that it equates the summit of Kilimanjaro with a certain enlightened holiness through its translated name, “the House of God” (Hemingway 1021).  Harry takes his final solace in this image of “unbelievable white” so consuming that it is “all he could see, as wide as the world” (Hemingway 1036) as his destination in the moments before his death.  Like the frozen leopard carcass preserved at the peak, Harry seeks the permanence of a legacy that he was never able to achieve through his writing.  This desire of reaching the crest of heaven serves as an illusion because Harry’s death is in no way similar to that of the leopard.  The frozen leopard symbolizes immortality because it died in a heroic quest to satisfy an intangible desire, however, Harry dies meekly on the plains of Tanzania, infected with disappointment.  Even in his dream he remains too cowardly to take control of his aspiration, as the plane is piloted by Compton, his personal servant and the embodiment of the indulgent lifestyle for which he blames for the majority of his death.

Hemingway illustrates the nature of Harry’s desire to separate himself from the tragedies of his reality throughout “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” with flashbacks enhanced by a distortion of traditional perceptions of aspects of life such as love, death and religion.  The vastness and ambiguity of each concept are so terrifying to him that he recoils from the real world. In a haze of drunkenness, he twists each around in his mind until they come to embody distortions of their traditional meanings.  It is through this kind of irrational rationalization of fears and regrets that Hemingway reveals the devastating extent of Harry’s innate cowardice.

Hemingway

Snows of Kilimanjaro

There are few people that like dealing with anything negative, let alone be able to remain optimistic in the face of adversity and tragedy. However, there are some people that can ordinarily go through a tough situation without seemingly breaking down or being discouraged; and in extreme events those types of people can be optimistic yet also realistic in their actions and words. Now this is not to say that all of the people like this necessarily enjoy dealing with a bad situation, rather, there are fewer people that can commonly make light of such a situation. Therefore for the purpose of this paper, optimistic will not necessarily mean always knowing it will all be okay in the end, but rather situations tend not to bother those optimistic people nearly as much as others. Of course, since the majority of people aren’t the type of person mentioned above, those that are somehow related to the same situation may not be as cool headed because they have to deal with both the situation and the aggravation of trying to get optimistic person to react the severity of the situation in a more “fitting” manner to them. This is understandable because a person of such optimistic behavior may sometimes decide not to react to a situation because they believe it will work out in the end/that their fate is already sealed (again, optimistic yet realistic in nature). In Ernest Hemingway’s story Snows of Kilimanjaro we can see these types of confrontation and relationship between the two characters Harry and Helen.

As stated, Harry and Helen have a conflicting relationship between a person that is realistic yet optimistic and a person that reacts a bit more stressed to situations. We are given some insight into their personalities throughout different parts of the story. Throughout the story, we get the sense that Helen is more concerned with Harry’s health and well-being more so than Harry is. One might say that the fighting and cruelty towards her is caused because of his sickness; however, the few times we are allowed into the mind of Harry, we see that he is just simply an ass in general: “‘… I love you really, you know I love you. I’ve never loved any one else the way I love you.’ He slipped into the familiar lie he made his bread and butter by’” (Hemingway p. 1025). “After he no longer meant what he said, his lies were more successful with women that when he had told them the truth…. He had had his life and it was over and then he went on living it again with different…” (Hemingway p. 1026). “It wasn’t this woman’s fault. If it had not been she it would have been another. If he lived by a lie he should try to die by it” (Hemingway p. 1026). Versus Helen whom, through the previous tragedies in her life, simply did not want to be alone or bored in the world (again relating to the necessity of reactions): “But the lovers bored her. She had been married to a man who never bored her and these people bored her very much… Suddenly, she had been acutely frightened of being alone. But she wanted some one that she respected with her” (Hemingway p. 1027). Some might expect a relationship like this to not be very stable, however Helen, as a person that lives more by reactions, is fueled by Harry’s “does and says what he wants because nothing will truly turn out badly” like attitude. And Helen somewhat added a structure to Harry’s life that made him feel even more like everything would be okay, as we can see when he thinks, “He had traded it for security, for comfort too, there was no denying that, and for what else? He did not know… (Hemingway p. 1027)

The final comparison between Harry and Helen can be seen with how each of the deal with Harry’s final moments. Towards the end there are a few places where it can be argued that Harry actually passed versus what parts were simply dreamlike or after he died. In the parts leading up to his death, we as the readers are presented with a strong sense of suspense as death looms closer and more heavily on Harry It can be said that Harry’s time of actual death occurs when Helen no longer responds to him in their short and last dialogue together: “‘…You’re the most complete man I’ve ever know.’ ‘Christ.’ he said. ‘How little a woman knows. What it that? Your intuition?’” (Hemingway p. 1035). We are ironically given deaths introduction right after Harry says “Christ” and Helen no longer responds to Harry. Throughout his standoff with death however, he seems to focus more on death than he does about the fact that death has come for him. It is hard to say whether or not he is necessarily ready to die, but his attitude towards death seems more like he is still hopeful that she will help him send death away yet he realizes his time is nigh. This is opposed to your average person whom would most likely freak out and be terrified not only about that their life is about to end but also terrified of death itself, rather than antagonize how it looks and how its breath smells. After Harry’s encounter with death, a new paragraph seemingly set apart from the previous section begins that seems hopeful. In this section, one could easily forget that it’s very possible that Harry just died in the previous section because this section is so optimistic and through the perspective of Harry. This is true even until the end when Hemingway subtly, clearly, and pleasantly reminds the readers that Harry has passed: “…all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going” (Hemingway p. 1038). This imagery has a sort of religious tone to it; more specifically it seems as Harry is being taken to Heaven at this point, making it a happy ending for him. Helen on the other hand is not as lucky and does not have such a happy ending. She is understandably hysterical because she has lost another important person in her life: “Then she said, ‘Harry, Harry!’ Then her voice rising, “Harry! Please, Oh Harry!’” (Hemingway p. 1037). She has a good reason to react in such a way, but it is a reaction regardless when she possibly could have been happy his suffering has ended.

Ultimately, through the use of these two characters, Hemingway effectively presents two different types of personalities. Through their back stories, personality types, and all around manner of dealing with situations you would think that a relationship between two people like this wouldn’t work or be stable. However, Hemingway shows that both were completed by the other because Harry’s realistic yet optimistic like attitude was given structure by Helen’s type of personality which is to react more to things and notion that everything might not turn out well.

A Close Reading of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

The protagonist of Ernest Hemingway’s, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” finds himself dying with a gangrenous infection, stranded in the African wilderness with his wife and several guides, facing imminent death. He responds to his wife’s genuine concern with sarcasm and nihilistic acceptance of death. It is easy to quickly dismiss Harry’s behavior as crass and tactless, especially from the dialogue. He even initially chooses to trivialize the direness of his situation, and makes unreasonable comments such as, “What about a drink?” and, “What the hell should I fool with broth for? Molo bring whiskey-soda,” to the great dismay of his wife. And yet, Harry appears to intermittently make kind remarks to his wife, such as , “You shoot marvelously, you know.”  Despite Harry’s appearance as a nihilistic and inconsiderate individual in Ernest Hemingway’s, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, the author’s usage of dialogue and flashbacks suggest the possibility of Harry  as a character with good intent.

To begin, a closer inspection of Harry’s behavior towards his wife will reveal a deep lack of ill will, and an attempt to reduce her suffering following his death. It is very much possible that Harry has internally accepted his fate from the beginning of the story. Perhaps he continually makes crude remarks that distress Helen to push her away from him as he approaches his demise, in an attempt to minimize the sense of loss that she will experience. When Helen hopefully suggests the possibility of trucks from the village arriving to rescue the members of the expedition, Harry promptly retorts with, “I don’t give a damn about the truck”. He follows this callous remark with, “You give a damn about so many things that I don’t.” On the surface-level, Harry’s comments are both insulting and upsetting to Helen. However, these utterances are prime examples of Harry attempting to soften the blow of his impending death. His nihilistic comments are a method of forcing Helen to accept his death, as acceptance is a significant part of the coping process (though in a latter stage). Harry’s attempts to convince Helen to acknowledge the difficult truth that he will die may be harsh and insensitive, but it is actually an indicator of Harry’s good will, and his desire for her to move on with life after his death. Other examples of this desire are reflected in his other comments such as, “Can’t you let a man die comfortably without calling him names?” and, “Don’t be silly. I’m dying now. Ask those bastards.” When he insults his wife for caring about too many things, Harry is chipping away at the relationship that has grown between them to reduce the impact of his death on her. When an elaborate, beautiful structure such as their relationship shatters suddenly with his death, the fallout will be massive, and Helen would be crushed. Other examples of this behavior include, “You rich bitch,” and, “Your damned money was my armour. My sword and armour.” Harry beginning to carve away at their relationship will render this structure scarred and crumbling, but the aftermath would be significantly less catastrophic. A deeper observation of Harry’s dialogue with Helen reveals a desire to reduce her suffering following his death, rather than callous remarks to increase her suffering.

Dispersed amongst Harry’s seemingly cruel comments is more overt evidence of his good will and care for Helen’s well-being. Despite being in severe pain, Harry is mindful enough to tell her that she, “better put her mosquito boots on,” out of concern for her health. Though it is easy to overlook, the pure selflessness and cognizance Harry demonstrates for Helen’s well-being is astonishing, given his own health circumstances. He also demonstrates genuine concern and care for Helen with his statement, “I love you, really. You know I love you.” The sporadic placement of his overtly caring comments amongst his more frequent negative comments creates an image of Harry attempting to push his wife away to reduce her future suffering, and attempt to instill in her an acceptance of death. However, one can speculate that Harry feels guilt for his cruelty, and it is in these instances that Harry makes an overtly empathetic, caring comment. Hemingway follows the aforementioned line with some insight into Harry’s cognition, which claims that his previous statement was a lie. However, this can also be perceived as Harry’s attempt to convince himself that he does not love Helen. To summarize this notion, Harry is in an emotional situation that is extremely difficult to navigate. He must overtly ridicule and distress his wife to reduce her future suffering, while he also attempts to convince himself that he does not love her, to reduce his own emotional suffering as he dies. The crassness of Harry’s comments belies his truly sensitive and well-meaning nature.

Not only does Harry’s present behavior truly demonstrate his core nature, but Harry’s behavior in the past as depicted through a flashback also further elucidates his capacity for good. When the bombing officer Williamson is gravely wounded, Harry, “gave him all his morphine tablets that he had always saved to use himself…” Harry makes an ultimate sacrifice: he parts with the one saving grace that would have massively dwindled the suffering of death by injury to help comfort his fellow soldier. Not only has Hemingway established Harry’s positive qualities in the present, but the flashbacks prove that Harry is, and has been a good man. It is obvious that Harry is perfectly capable of good, and his selfless behavior in the past serves as significant evidence of this trait.

Hemingway’s protagonist sacrifices for the sake of others in the past and present through the timeline of this short story, presented by the usage of dialogue and flashbacks. Sacrifice for the good of others is one of the supreme indicators of good will and selflessness, two traits that are not immediately perceptible in Harry. However, to completely overlook the sacrifices he has made could be a gross mischaracterization of the individual.  

 

Barthelme Compared to Hemmingway

“The balloon, beginning at a point on Fourteenth Street, the exact location of which I cannot reveal, expanded northward all one night, while people were sleeping, until it reached the Park.” (Barthelme 604)

“The marvelous thing is that it’s painless,” he said. “That’s how you know when it starts.” (Hemmingway 1021)

Barthelme’s opening paragraph struck an immediate connection with Hemmingway’s opening to The Snows of Kilimanjaro. In The Balloon we are immediately thrown into the middle of a scene that we know nothing about. Barthelme presents us with a massive balloon of unknown location and unknown reason that is expanding across the city. At first we are given no notice of who caused this to happen or why this was necessary but throughout the story we are given more and more information until at the very end we finally understand the reason for the balloon. This seems a very Hemmingwayesque way to begin a story. Similarly, The Snows of Kilimanjaro opens with a vague dialogue talking about a pain and horrible odor the reader initially knows nothing about. Hemmingway zeroes on the immediate problem-Henry’s imminent death- just as Barthelme zeroes on the immediate issue of the balloon. By tossing the reader directly into the middle of a scene the author creates a sense of intrigue that he can then go on to reveal.

Another similarity between the two stories came to mind in regard to the attitude of the narrator in The Balloon and Henry in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. In the passage above the narrator tells us in a teasing way that the balloon has an “exact location of which I cannot reveal.” He then goes on to boast how he alone controls the expansion of the balloon. The way the narrator claims he saw no reason to not allow the balloon to continue its growth seems very smug and suggests the narrator holds a self-satisfied sense of power. This assertion yields the view that in light of the rest of the story being dedicated to observing other people’s reactions, the narrator is expecting and looking forward to seeing a response from others. In this very same way, Henry seems to say just the things that he knows will elicit a response from his wife. In both cases, the sense of power the two characters hold gives them the satisfaction of watching others respond.

A Comparison of O’Connor and Hemingway

From the Snows of Kilimanjaro ”

THE MARVELLOUS THING IS THAT IT’S painless,” he said. “That’s how you know when it starts.””Is it really?””Absolutely. I’m awfully sorry about the odor though. That must bother you.””Don’t! Please don’t.””Look at them,” he said. “Now is it sight or is it scent that brings them like that?”

From Good Country People

Besides the neutral expression that she wore when she was alone, Mrs. Freeman had two others, forward and reverse, that she used for all her human dealings. Her forward expression was
steady and driving like the advance of a heavy truck. Her eyes never swerved to left or right but turned as the story turned as if they followed a yellow line down the center of it. She seldom used the other expression because it was not often necessary for her to retract a statement, but when she did, her face came to a complete stop, there was an almost imperceptible movement of her black eyes, during which they seemed to be receding, and then the observer would see that Mrs. Freeman, though she might stand there as real as several grain sacks thrown on top of each other, was no longer there in spirit”

 

I found the style of introducing the characters in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Hemingway and “Good Country People” by O’Connor to be radically different. O’Connor begins by very specifically describing the characters and their mannerisms, such as Mrs. Freeman’s “forward expression”. In addition, O’Connor immediately provides the reader with insight on her relationship with the other characters, e.g. how she “thought of her as a child though she was thirty-two years old and highly educated”. In this manner, the setting and characters have been fairly well explored as the plot begins to progress. This is in stark contrast to Hemingway’s method of introduction: with sarcastic dialogue containing few context clues. The relationship between the two main characters is unclear, with much of the introductory dialogue consisting of seemingly light-hearted banter such as , “”Now is it sight or is it scent that brings them like that?”. It is revealed through more dialogue that the situation is much more dire than originally perceived as, and some information about the characters can be inferred. The nature of the characters are slowly revealed through this dialogue rather than explicitly provided by an omniscient narrator.

Though this contrast between the two authors could be a stylistic choice, it is important to note the circumstances that each story takes place in. “Good Country People” has a very every-day tone to it, with little urgency or direness. The characters experience various events (love, deception, frustration, etc.) that are quite commonplace. However, Hemingway’s protagonists are stranded on an African safari trip, with one of them facing imminent death by gangrene. Perhaps the direness of the situation is expressed by the lack of an omniscient narrator, in a cold, harsh world where man ultimately must face his demise alone. The more dire situation warrants a stripped down introduction with little context to emulate the urgency of the situation, while the more common circumstances can afford the explicit insight on the characters.

“Comfortably” Hemingway, 1022

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.