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“The Snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro” by E. Hemingway Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 18th, 2021


Literary artists exhibit their writing talents by creating different literary works. Some of these literary works include novels, plays, and short stories. Each type of literary work has got unique features that differentiate it from other literary works. A short story uses all the elements of that genre to develop his or her theme; in fact, all the elements are used to lead the reader to the central meaning of the work.

The Plot of the Short Story

Plot refers to the pattern of events in a short story. The short story ‘The snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro’ begins with a description of Mount Kilimanjaro followed by a tale of the frozen carcass of a leopard. The story then introduces Harry and his wife Helen on their tour to Africa. Harry is suffering from gangrene and is about to die. As his situation worsens, he talks about his death in a manner that angers his wife. He says that it would be difficult for a rescue plane to save him because of their location. Helen is determined to help him go through his problems, but his self-pity and hopelessness discourage her. Harry then starts thinking about the varying experiences he has gone through in life.

Harry remembers his earlier trips to Europe when he was looking for information about the war, hunting in the mountains, playing games, and getting information about a bombed train with Australian officers. He falls asleep, and when he wakes up towards the end of the day, he realizes that Helen, who has been on a shooting trip, has just returned. He tells her that she has been a good wife, but he regrets having spent his life marrying rich women who ignored his writing talent (Bloom 71).

Harry then remembers how he developed gangrene as he tried to take photographs of water-bucks. He was scratched on the knee and failed to use iodine. After this memory, he remembers his encounter in Constantinople, where he fought over a prostitute with a British fighter and then headed to Anatolia. He recalls that he, later on, went back to Paris and joined the wife he was married to at that time. As Harry and Helen eat their supper, Harry remembers how his grandfather’s log house was consumed by fire. He also narrates to Helen his fishing experience in the Black Forest and his relationship with the poor neighbors. In his last memories, he recalls an officer called Williamson who suffered a bomb attack.

Eventually, Harry lies on a cot as he remembers his experiences in life. While on the cot, he experiences death and associates it with a hyena in the campsite. Helen transfers his cot and has a feeling that Harry is dying after realizing that he could not speak. Harry is dreaming of a man known as Compton who comes to rescue him, and as he is being taken to the plane, he could see the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, which is his destination. Helen is woken up by a hyena’s cry in the night only to see Harry on his cot dead (Bloom 75).


The setting is defined as the physical environment where a story takes place (Harpham 156). It is an important component of a short story since it gives the readers a picture of the physical surroundings where the story takes place. This story’s setting is a campsite near Tanganyika plains on the last evening of Harry, who is about to die of gangrene. Tanganyika plains are found in Africa, which is a land full of light and heat.

These are the qualities that compel Harry to choose this place because the darkness in his soul would be illuminated. He is also optimistic that he would get inspirational warmth that would melt his frozen talents. The irony of the matter is that the land that is supposed to be his solace turns out to be his graveyard. Of great importance in this story’s setting is how contrast is made between the plains and the mountain.

Kilimanjaro becomes the final landscape, which rises high above the plains pleasantly. It is a physical and final sign of innocence, purity, and aspiration in a world characterized by misery and corruption. Before his death, Harry goes beyond the hills, forests, plains, and the clouds. His journey enables him to see the peak of Kilimanjaro in an apparent instance of ecstasy. Eventually, a world where comfort and money are the gods is symbolically abandoned as Harry finds the ‘House of God’ in the holy mountain.


A short story theme refers to an abstract concept that the author focuses on (Harpham 185). It can also be defined as an idea frequently occurring throughout the literary work. In this short story, death stands out as the central theme. For many years, Harry has always been curious about death. When he realizes that he is close to it, his curiosity disappears, and he feels angered and tired. The sensation of death strikes him on the chest like a heavy burden. The perceptions that come with death include the fading of the daylight into a dark night, vultures flying all over the camp, sounds of a hyena, and the turning of conscious thinking into fantasy. The other theme evident in this short story is the impact of wealth on talent. Harry is described as a promising author, but marrying wealthy women destroys his writing career.


Symbolism is the use of one thing to represent another by association (Gates and McKay 40). This short story uses various natural symbols. Firstly, the mountains are used to symbolize innocence, purity, and aspiration, while the plains symbolize corruption and suffering. Secondly, the dead leopard symbolizes the shameful and painless death caused by gangrene that Harry faces. The dead leopard is contrasted with the body of the man that is rotting in the plains.

The leopard goes beyond the borders of nature and ventures into an unknown world, causing its heroic death. The man does not try, he remains where he is, does not achieve anything, and he finally dies as he curses the darkness. The animal is a symbol of an artist who faces a noble death as he searches the summit, while gangrene symbolizes the corruption and the defiled talent.

Helen is also used symbolically to represent threats and danger. She symbolizes richness and wealth, which are the elements that corrupt the mind of Harry. Despite the fact that wealth can buy comfort and security, it eventually destroys Harry. Money and women are therefore used as agents that combine to assist Harry in his journey of self-destruction. Helen is therefore used as a symbol of death that destroys Harry (Gates and McKay 45).


Characterization refers to the author’s presentation of the characters. The main characters in this short story are Harry, who is a writer, and his wife, Helen. Harry is a round character who is ambiguous, and the full revelation of his qualities can only be achieved as the story comes to an end. Throughout the story, two different attributes Harry are brought out. The first Harry is a disillusioned person on the brink of death who tries to deal with his guilt. The second Harry is adventurous and a tough person who takes challenges wherever he goes.

On the other hand, Helen is a flat character who does not go through many changes throughout the story. Although Harry portrays Helen as a negative character who symbolizes death, it is ironic that she handles him in a manner that portrays her as a symbol of life. She is concerned about his welfare and tries to make him comfortable. She keeps on encouraging him, and even when he has given up on hopes of a rescue plane arriving, she gives him hope. She also tells him that the noise made by hyenas does not announce his death because that is a common occurrence in camps. Unlike Harry, Helen is a character who does not bother to look for the hidden attributes of people and does not remember the past. Neither is she disturbed by the fear of the future.

Style of the short story

This short story is told in the third person narrative style and uses dialogue. The sections representing the numerous moments of Harry’s unconsciousness are italicized. This is giving the reader a clear picture of a man who has traveled widely in Europe and has relationships with many women. Hemmingway’s style conveys Harry’s disturbing conscience, which has a close association with his loneliness that is difficult to eliminate. The author uses imagery appropriately, which gives the readers a clear sense of place through vivid descriptions. To suggest the imminent death of Harry, the author uses vultures and the wails of a hyena, attracted by the rotting body of Harry. He also links the rotting body of Harry with poetry (Gates and McKay 55).

Point of View

Point of view refers to how the author tells the story to the reader. The short story portrays the feelings that go through the mind of individuals like Harry, who is about to die and regrets his wasted life. On the other hand, the point of view of Helen, who is not afraid of imminent death, is limited. The short story involves a dialogue between Harry and Helen as he struggles with his stream of consciousness. He remembers his experiences early in life before meeting Helen. Through the thoughts and dialogues that Harry is involved in, the reader can understand his point of view regarding his condition and memories of his entire life. Harry views his life as wasted because he has not achieved his dreams and blames the wealthy women for keeping him as a possession.


Tone refers to the attitude of the writer towards the content of his work. In this short story, the tone can be described in various ways. Firstly, it can be described as regretful since Harry is regretting having wasted all his life. He says that his involvement with wealthy women has caused him not to realize his dreams. Secondly, the tone can also be described as serious since Harry is worried about his death and is always remembering his past. On the contrary, Helen is not afraid of death and comforts Harry instead.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. Ernest Hemingway. New York: Infobase Publishing, 1999. Print.

Gates, Henry and Nellie McKay. The Norton anthology of African American literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2004. Print.

Harpham, Geofrey. A Glossary of Literary Terms. New York: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.

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