Analytical essay on The Snows of Kilimanjaro

In the authorship of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, Ernest Hemingway applies some significant elements found in the modernistic style of literature. The story is based on the life of a couple stranded in the African wilderness. The man is dying of a serious illness, while he pursues a contentious relationship with his wife. Hemingway provides a first-person account of Harry as the main character in the story. This is an adherence to the statement by The Norton Anthology of American Literature on modernism that modern fiction should limit the reader to one character’s point of view on the action (Gates et al., 2014). Ernest Hemingway has a wide experience in literature, having utilized his talent in writing short stories, nonfiction, and many novels. He is ranked among the most famous and great American writers of the twentieth century. Hemingway is best-known for exploring his most enduring and deepest themes in his short stories. Some of these strong themes include the alienation of men in the modern world, bravery, machismo, writing, and death. The use of symbolism, the style of narration, the story setting and the theme exploration in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” prove the artistic talent of Hemingway.

The setting of the story

The setting of a story is a significant element of a short story that provides the readers with an image of the physical environment where the story occurs. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” has its story set in a campsite near the plains of Tanganyika in Africa. The story begins with the happenings of an evening that Harry dies of gangrene. The writer effectively chooses this setting to enable the readers to relate the picture with the theme of the story. Tanganyika plains form part of the Sub-Saharan regions that are characterized by much light and heat. In his choice of the place, Harry believes that the light would illuminate the darkness in his soul. Besides, the heat would provide an inspirational warmth to melt his frozen talents.

Ironically, the land expected to be Harry’s source of new life turns out to be his graveyard. There is a significant contrast between the Kilimanjaro Mountain and the Tanganyika plains in the story setting (Hartman 120). Rising above the plains, Kilimanjaro forms the main landscape for the story setting. It is a physical symbol of the hope in the society characterized by social evils like corruption and misery. Harry walks beyond the clouds, plains, forests and the hills before his death. It is through the journey that Harry saw the peak of Kilimanjaro from a far distance. Eventually, he discovered the ‘House of God’ in the holy mountain. The discovery was a sign of relief and change in society.


Hemingway focuses on death as the main theme in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” His background plays a role in influencing Hemingway to explore the ideology of death throughout this short story. The fear of death was a major factor that influenced Hemingway to focus on this theme. He was so passionate in his work that he feared to die without completing it. Significantly, Harry had a similar attribute to Hemingway of fearing to die prematurely before completing their assignment. Harry was ever curious about death until when he realized that it was knocking. When he learns that he is suffering from serious gangrene and almost dying, Harry explains how “it was all over” (Hemingway 57). He argues that “it had obsessed him,” but now it was of no use to obsess over something when he was nearing death (57). He likened death to the turning of conscious thinking into fantasy, sounds of a hyena, vultures flying all over the camp and mostly to the fading of the daylight into night.


Hemingway uses symbolism in his literary to enable the readers to associate the theoretical thing with a known natural thing. Many natural symbols are used throughout the story to make it interesting and easily comprehensible. First and foremost, the setting of the story in plains neighbored by mountains is a symbol of the themes in society. The plains are used to symbolize suffering due to corruption and mystery in society (Hartman 122). On the other hand, the mountains symbolize aspiration, purity, and innocence. Plains cover the largest part of the land, while mountains can be seen from far, extruding above the plains. The implication is that there is the hope of deliverance from the evils covering society.

A dead leopard is used as a symbol of how Harry dies painlessly from gangrene. Unlike the dead man whose body rots in the plains, a leopard meets its heroic death while exploring the nature of the world. The man remains in his original place without trying new explorations, hence dying without achieving anything but only cursing the darkness. The dead leopard symbolizes the artist who meets a painless death while looking for the summit, whereas gangrene is a symbol of the defiled talent and corruption (Hartman 121). The writer uses Helen as a symbol of danger and threats. Helen symbolizes wealth and richness that corrupted and defiled Harry’s mind. Ironically, Harry is destroyed by the richness that can purchase security and comfort in life. Besides, his wife contributed to his fall instead of supporting him to explore his big dreams. Therefore, both money and women are the forces that drove Harry on the journey of self-destruction. More precisely, Helen symbolizes the agent used to destroy Harry.

Style of the short story

Third-Person narration is the main style used in this short story. He narrates about the life experience of Harry and his relationship with Helen. This style of narration enables the readers to make their conclusion and understanding of the story. Besides, Hemingway employs dialogue as another significant element of his narration. He applies imagery effectively which gives the readers a clear sense of place through vivid descriptions. Hemmingway’s style conveys Harry’s disturbing conscience which has a close association with his loneliness that is difficult to eliminate. A tone of regrets is evident throughout the story. Harry lives to regret how he wasted his precious life, failing to accomplish his work in life. He claims that his involvement with rich women killed his focus in life. The tone can also be described as a serious one because Harry remembers his past as he worries about the coming death. However, Helen is so strong that she is the one comforting the husband because she does not fear death.


Works Cited

Gates Jr, Henry Louis, Valerie A. Smith, and Kimberly W. Benston. “The Norton Anthology of African-American Literature.” (2014).

Hartman, James. “The Defamiliarization of Death in Hemingway’s” The Snows of Kilimanjaro”.” The Hemingway Review 35.2 (2016): 120-123.

Hemingway, Ernest, and Stacy Keach. The snows of Kilimanjaro. Simon & Schuster Audio, 2003.


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