Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sunday: Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Always short stories, always ones available online for free.

A certain type of knowledge and lifestyle is valued in Hemingway’s short fiction, with characters striving towards an ideal notion of manhood (whether on a hunting trip in Africa or playing at being a matador) and too often failing to reach it. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” displays a concern with those repeated questions of what it is to be a man, with Hemingway’s main character Harry seeming a fallen figure, a writer who has given in to dissolution, whose life work is incomplete, and is in the process of dying on Kilimanjaro, not from a dramatic injury but from an infected scratch. That such a minor wound could bring down the man in part seems a comment on his absorption with the lifestyle of those like his current girlfriend, in part a comment on the quality of his life as a man; that such a tiny thing could bring him down, something so small as to be hardly worth noticing.

Harry’s tone in the story is petulant, childish, focusing attention (by appearing to want to deflect it) on the miseries of a preventable death by an insignificant injury. At story’s open he apologizes for the scent of the infection (“I’m awfully sorry about the odor though. That must bother you.”) and in doing so brings his girlfriend’s focus where he wants it. That petulance seems warranted, though, as he reflects on so many episodes of his life with regret, not least among them that he should be facing his death with a woman he does not love.

What Hemingway does so remarkably here is not just to make clear the failures of Harry’s life or to show the tensions defining his current relationship, but to make compelling a story that from the start we realize is only concerned with the shift that occurs between the last days of life and death.

Read “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”

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This one sounds interesting. I like your story sundays. :-)

Comment by Jillian ♣

I really need to give Hemingway’s stories another chance. This did nothing for me when I read it. I read your thoughts and wonder HOW.

Comment by rebeccareid

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