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The Snows of Kilimanjaro

Ernest Hemingway’s 1936 short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro is one of the most frequently critiqued works of fiction in the author’s prodigious oeuvre. The strong autobiographical elements on Ernest Hemingway in the story present critics and scholars with a plethora of viable readings and interpretations of the story’s characters, themes, and symbols. In The Snows of Kilimanjaro, a dying writer languishes with a gangrenous wound at the foot of an enormous African mountain.  The Snows of KilimanjaroIn the process of gradually losing his strength and slipping closer to death, the author, through conversations with his wife and a series of interior monologues, reflects on his own weaknesses and shortcomings and laments over the vast amount of his personal observations and perceptions that will remain unwritten after his death.  In this essay, I will offer a close reading of The Snows of Kilimanjaro that is based upon an analysis of the structure, symbolism and themes that Hemingway employs in the text.

The structure of The Snows of Kilimanjaro is unique among Hemingway’s short stories.  The series of nearly stream of consciousness interior monologues structure the rhythm of the narrative to mirror the disjointed thought processes of a dying man.  Because the principal narrator is a dying fiction writer who is tormented by the many profound life experiences that he will now be unable to immortalize in print, the italicized sections of the text convey Harry’s memories translated into the form of polished, fictionalized prose. Throughout Harry’s final descent into death, Harry is composing his final story in his private consciousness. Hemingway’s engaging use of interior monologue and italics allows the reader to transcend the “real-time” setting of the piece, for example, by following Harry and Compton in the plane to Kilimanjaro as if this section were part of the actual narrative. By experience with the use of the stylistic technique of flashback in other texts, most readers have become accustomed to interpreting italicized print as conveying an action taking place in Harry’s mind.  Hemingway subverts this tradition and uses it to manipulate the reader.  For example, when the journey to Kilimanjaro begins, this tradition would dictate that it should be rendered in Italics. The fact that it is not undermines the traditional flashback technique and demonstrates that the narrative culminates not, as expected, in Harry’s death, but ultimately, with his redemption.

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