Ernest Hemingway is a master of a short-story writing who vividly depicts the struggle of men for existence. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories” depict deep psychological experience of a man and the impact of nature on human beings. Hemingway pays a special attention to settings in the story and descriptions which reflect inner psychological state of the characters, help readers grasp the idea, follow plot development and conflict resolution of the story. Thesis Hemingway uses descriptions as the main technique which shapes the story and reflects characters development through emotional tension and flashbacks.
The main character is a writer, Harry, who has scratched on the leg by a thorn. The main problem is that he did not apply iodine and his leg has been infected by gangrene. Helen, a wife of the writer, does everything possible to support and help her husband to survive. Creating two opposite characters, Hemingway describes human feelings and relations between the spouses. “Harry despises himself for betraying himself as an artist and takes his self-hatred out on his wife, a cruelty that makes him hate himself even more.
He alternates between reviling Helen and placating her with dishonest apologies (Tyler, 2001: 99). The story beings with a talk between Harry and his wife which helps Hemingway introduce the heroes. Through vivid descriptions of sufferings and doubt of Harry Hemingway directs readers through the story. Critics (Tyler 2001) admit that “the story’s form is unusual, for Hemingway incorporates within the story Harry’s flashbacks to the experiences he wanted to use as raw material for his writing” (98). The short story presents a unique vision of death and transition period between life and death which is “painless’’.
Stillness supports the theme of death that is always connected with motionlessness and quietness. Death came “with a rush…of a sudden evil-smelling emptiness…that the hyena slipped lightly on the edge of it” (Hemingway, 1995: 15). Vivid descriptions create emotional tension and heat the atmosphere of the story predicting the outcomes. For instance, hyena is always associated with death and described as “strange, human, almost crying sound (Hemingway 1995: 27). Nature is used by Hemingway to describe deep personal feelings and life experience of a human, and reflect their evolution.
Hemingway depicts the desert as a powerful creature who is able to control humans. The desert is so beautiful and changeable, but also threatening and dangerous. Pleasures and pains Harry experiences in Africa have much in common with his life and morals. The beauty of nature is in contrast with the inner dispirited state of Harry. With the help of this metaphor, Hemingway depicts pictures which reflect his interpretation of nature. To compare the nature with a human being is the perfect way to appeal to a reader’s emotions and imagination.
On the other hand, “Harry and Helen see Africa purely in terms of its usefulness to them: As in so much American and British literature written by white men, Africa thus becomes the stage for the white male’s drama of individuation” (Moddelmog 109 cited Tyler 2001: 100). The composition of the short story supports decryptions and development of the characters. Hemingway uses unique interpretation of events and gender roles creating a circle of events which forces readers to rethink and re-interpret them time and again.
The descriptions are structured in reverse chronology that depicts relationships between Harry and other women, Harry and his friends in reverse order, from the most painful moments to happier times when “sees his life flash before his eyes” (Hemingway 1995: 6). These descriptions help readers to focus on the memories and emotions of the heroes and understand the essence of their relations. It is possible to assume that such chronology is used to affect readers making them active participants of events.
Readers have to reconstruct the events adding new facts to the story based on the facts extracted from Harry’s memory. The plot development is based on continual mixing of memory and the present moment underlines that these pieces are integral parts of human life that closely connected with each other (past and present) and have a direct impact on future of Harry who recollects “he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well” (Hemingway 1995: 5).
Descriptions of emotions reflect the character’s development and shape the atmosphere of the story. Following Tyler (2001) “Harry is too emotionally exhausted to connect with anyone: “with the women that he loved he had quarreled so much they had finally, always, with the corrosion of the quarrelling, killed what they had together” (100). Decryptions of emotions and feelings of the main characters underline changing nature of existence and the world around the heroes.
Harry changes his attitude towards death many times which shows his emotional state and doubt trying to “send it away without speaking” (Hemingway 1995: 15). Every hour can be seen as a new recitation which should help both of them to improve relations with others and personal values. On the other hand, recitation underlines ordinariness of the existence. Another natural phenomenon described by Hemingway is snow. Setting of snow associates with cold and death of a person. It means that human beings need warmth to still alive.
The beauty of snow is in contrast with the inner state of the hero. The setting of unbroken snow can be interpreted as the theme of universal constancy and non-intervention of a human into laws of nature. “But it was the snow all right and he sent them on into it when he evolved exchange of populations. And it was snow they tramped along in until they died that winter” (Hemingway 1995: 7). This description is supported by the story about a boy who’d been frozen and half-eaten by dogs.
Hemingway underlines that human life depends upon natural phenomenon much more than we think. According to Meyers (1997): “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is the only story in which he has allowed himself to be conventionally poetic; it describes the death of a writer, with disquieting touches of selfloathing and self-pity” (264). Readers understand that Harry is a man who is full of life experience, but still has to take pains to struggle with the nature. This gives him an immense strength, and a confidence which are perhaps among his greatest attraction.
Another interesting detail is that Hemingway pays little attention to Helen and her actions, but describes her through Harry’s eyes. He describes his wife: “she shot very well this good, this rich bitch, this kindly caretaker and destroyer of his talent” (Hemingway 1995: 11). This technique brings subjectivity to the description, but creates emotional tension. Metaphors always make description more emotional and vivid. They are impressive and capture the readers’ attention at once. Hemingway describes that “appearance” of land and the mountains are embodied in human characteristics.
“The cot the man lay on was in the wide shade of a mimosa tree and as he looked out past the shade onto the glare of the plain there were three of the big birds squatted obscenely” (Hemingway, 1995: 4). The evolution of emotional perception of the world and values is depicted through vivid descriptions and nature. The descriptions are based on flashbacks as the main characters recount the events in a grove. The heroes are caught in their social roles and cannot go beyond these predetermined statuses. In sum, Hemingway possesses a unique style of writing which appeals to readers mind and emotions.
He skillfully uses descriptions as one of the main tools which reflect and support characters’ development and story conflict. Writing of the author is filled with meaning and symbolism, hidden in plain sight beneath a seamless narrative style that breathes not a word of agenda, of dogma, or of personal belief.
1. Hemingway, E. (1995). The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories. Scribner. 2. Meyers, J. (1997). Ernest Hemingway: The Critical Heritage. Routledge. 3. Tyler, L. (2001). Student Companion to Ernest Hemingway. Greenwood Press.