The Meaning Behind the Animal Metaphors and Flashbacks in The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Analysis of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway
The story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” was written by Ernest Hemingway in 1938. First, Ernest Hemingway reflects his concerns as a writer and his life in general through this story. In this story Ernest wants to “remark some aspects that affects some American writers such as politics, drink, women, money, and ambition” (Pollklas, 1998); also, Ernest Hemingway also shares his fears through the story because he thinks that he could finish his life without taking advantage of the time. This story begins with an epigraph about the mountain of Kilimanjaro and a dead leopard on the summit of the mountain. Then, the characters Harry and Helen (who are a couple) are in a plain in Africa, and they start talking about Harry´s gangrene in his right leg. Also, they both are waiting for a plane to take them out of Africa. Harry is an ambitious writer, and he is married to Helen due to her money. In addition, this story presents many flashbacks in which Harry remembers the good times in his life. At the end of the story, Harry imagines himself flying over the Kilimanjaro Mountain and then he dies. Moreover, in order to understand the story, it is important to mention the way in which the leopard and the hyena depict different stages in Harry´s personal and emotional life, to compare and contrast the plains and the mountains, to demonstrate how the epigraph reveals the spiritual and the quest for knowledge, to indicate the ways in which Harry and Helen became stereotypes of the chauvinistic and feministic aspect, and also to state the significance of flashbacks for the meaning and development of the plot in the story.
First of all, the narrator mentions in the epigraph of the story a frozen leopard, “Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude” (1). This is a foreshadowing in which the leopard represents a stage in Harry´s life which may be death and the seeking for heaven. Also, this may represent another stage never reached in Harry´s life for as the leopard, Harry never accomplished the summit of the mountain, which may signify the peak of his own writing. In spite of living a marvelous life, he never wrote anything about it. Furthermore, another important animal is the hyena since it depicts also a foreshadowing of Harry´s death, “… a hyena crossed the open on his way around the hill… that bastard crosses there every night… every night for two weeks.” (8), so the hyena is waiting for Harry´s death as vultures lurking their prey. On the other hand, the leopard is worthy for it has taken the tough road to Kilimanjaro, which represent the house of God, and also the leopard represents some different stages in Harry´s life; for instance, Harry´s time at war when he helped Williamson, “Nothing passed out Williamson until he gave him all his morphine tablets that he had always saved to use himself …” (13), here, Harry´s deed is wonderful since he sacrifices himself to release Williamson´s pain. Also, Harry does not want to hurt Helen and he does not confess her that he has never really loved her, “I love you, really. You know I love you. I´ve never loved anyone else the way I love you…He slipped into the familiar lie he made his bread and butter by” (5). Hence, he also sacrifices himself not to disappoint even more his wife. The leopard not only depicts the good deeds and stages of Harry but also the approaching to immortality by Harry as the frozen leopard in the epigraph that may represent life on heaven and earth; This may be one explanation to the never-answered mystery of the Masai. Moreover, the hyena represents the decay of Harry and the worsening of his illness until reaching an end which is death, “It had moved up on him now, but it had no shape anymore” (14). The narrator is mentioning the hyena that has no shape any longer, and also the approaching of it toward Harry closer every time until the moment it catches and impedes Harry to talk; “It moved up closer to him still and he could not speak to it… but it moved in on him so its weight was all upon his chest…” (14), the hyena is seen as a representation of death since it has no shape anymore and there readers may notice the process of death. Also, another important aspect is that the hyena resembles so much Harry in the sense of the odor since Harry says he stinks, “I´m awfully sorry about the odor though…” (1), and also when he talks to the hyena he mentions that it also stinks, “You´ve got a hell of breath, you stinking bastard” (14). So, the hyena depicts the stage when Harry is sick just about to die.
The story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” presents some similarities and differences between mountains and plains. First, the symbolism of the mountain Kilimanjaro is contrasted with the symbolism of the plains; in the story, mountains represent life because they contain “green-rising forest and the solid bamboo… waterfall” (15); therefore, these images give a sense of living because nature grows up just when there is fertile land, but in the case of the plains nature is more difficult to be seen. Moreover, mountains also represent the good events that Harry had lived in the past. For instance, in the flashbacks presented in the story, Harry starts remembering the journeys in his past in which he had lived happily such as “in the morning at breakfast, looking out of the window and seeing snow on the mountains in Bulgaffa” (3); although he had enjoyed these places, he had not written about those places, so he just have good memories about mountains. On the contrary, the plains represent decay and death because Harry is dying in the plains of Africa, but Harry presents not only a physical decay, but also a mental decay. First, he has a “gangrene … in his right leg” (2), so that illness is going to cause his death, but also Harry is presenting a psychological decay because he is hopeless and he complains all the time because “all he felt now was a great tiredness and anger” (2). Furthermore, mountains and plains also contain some similarities since both of them are stages in Harry´s life. Therefore, mountains and plains are stages that teach Harry that life is passing by and the only certain thing is death because when he is in the mountain, he is happy, but he does not pay attention to this because he is worried about other things. In addition, when he is in the plain in Africa, he does not take advantage of the time because he is complaining all the time about the illness that he suffers from “I don’t want to move… There is no sense of moving now except to make it easier for you” (1); in both places the mountain and the plain, Harry is living without concern.
The epigraph presented in the story helps readers understand the spiritual essence and the quest for knowledge. First, when the author says “Kilimanjaro is a snows- covered mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngaje Ngai,” the House of God” (1); this place symbolizes the paradise because in this place people can find peace and the meaning of life. Also, hills and mountains have always been related to the closeness with God because of the religious aspect since these places can be closer to heaven such as the Olympus Mountain in Greek Mythology. Therefore, people usually want to climb to the mountains in order to get close to God and feel the divinity of God´s power. Moreover, “Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude” (1); the leopard represents strength, power, and courage because the leopard dies trying to reach the summit of “The House of God”, so he dies trying to fulfill a purpose which is get closer to God and trying to find the meaning of his life. Also, this leopard has been found dead, and his death represents the immortality of the leopard because he dies physically, but he will be remembered all the time because of his braveness because not everyone would take that risk of going to that place knowing that he or she can die. Furthermore, these scenes represent Harry´s life since Harry at the beginning of the story is lazy, and he does not take advantage of his life, but at the end he goes through a journey in which he tries to find a significance to his life, so he behaves as the leopard climbing the mountain until “The House of God” in order to find peace and knowledge.
Harry and Helen are stereotypes of chauvinism and feminism. First, Harry is an example of a chauvinistic man because he treats Helen badly “Helen-Don’t you love me?… Harry-No… I don’t think so. I never have” (3); therefore, Harry is always insulting her and he says that the only thing that he cares about her is her money and he says that “your damned money was my armour. My sword and my armour … you bitch… you rich bitch. That’s poetry I´m full of poetry now. Rotten poetry” (4); in addition, Harry does not love Helen because he is with her in order to spend her money, and that is the way he has always been with women since he just looks for women who have money. Hence, Harry treats Helen like a sexual object saying “I´d like to destroy you a few times in bed” (7); as a chauvinistic man, Harry does not treat Helen respectfully. Moreover, Helen is also part of a chauvinistic society because she is presented as a submissive woman because she is always helping and taking care of Harry despite of his bad treats; for example, “Helen- it´s supposed to be bad for you. It said in Black´s to avoid all alcohol. You shouldn’t drink” (2); although Harry is always offending her, Helen is always helping him. Furthermore, Helen is also seen as a feministic woman in some parts of the story since she is the one who has money in the relationship, so that makes her independent from Harry “[money] was always yours as much as mine”(3); therefore, she is the one who gives money to Harry. In addition, Helen is a strong woman because she knows how to work alone; for instance, “she had gone to kill a piece of meat” (5); Helen is very good as shooting and that is a characteristic that not many women have because it is supposed to be a job just for men, but she breaks all the rules of a chauvinistic society. Hence, Harry is part of that feministic society because he is sick in his bed while Helen is outside trying to find something to eat. Also, Helen is the head of the family “her husband had died when she was comparatively young woman and for a while she devoted herself to her two children [one of her two children died in a plane crash some time later]” (6); therefore, Helen is a representation of an exemplary mother because she has to take care of her son alone. Moreover, another feministic characteristic in Helen is that she likes to read, so that means that she likes to learn about many things “She was always thoughtful… on anything she knew about or had read, or that she had ever heard” (5); this characteristic helps her to learn more, and knowledge is a very important aspect in order to avoid stereotypes.
Ernest Hemingway uses five flashbacks through “The snows of Kilimanjaro”; each flashback has some important significance for the development of the story. The first flashback is about loss of life and money since the narrator goes back to the times when he was in the World War I. First of all, he tells the story when he was living different experiences fighting against Turks and Greeks, “The Turks had come steadily and lumpily and he had seen the skirted men running and the officers shooting into them…” (9), this represents the loss of lives since the narrator actually fights at World War I. Then, he remembers when Herr Lent lost all his money because of being gambling all the time, “Herr Lent lost more. Finally he lost it all” (4), this means the loss of money, which involves the central idea of the flashback regarding loss. However, there is something else in regards to happiness, which is the remembrance of snow in Vorarlberg and the Arlberg. This remembrance brings good memories since Harry describes many of the activities he used to do there such as “singing Hi! Ho!… running the orchard in three turns… knocking your bindings loose, kicking the skis free and leaning them up against wall of the inn…” (4), Harry misses these good memories, and again he never wrote anything about it. So, the sense of loss is reflected throughout the flashback representing the loss of life and money, but also the happiness depicted by the snow. Then, the second flashback is about Harry´s attempt to avoid loneliness since he mentions when he was in Constantinople all alone, “ He had whored the whole time and then, when that was over, and he had failed to kill his loneliness, but only made it worse…” (8), Harry was so empty that he tried to fill his void with women who at the end after a fight abandon him leaving him alone and unable to finish with his loneliness. Also, another important feature of the second flashback is the worthlessness of Harry since he runs away from turkey led by fear, “ … he and the British observer had run too until his lungs ached… ” (9), here, readers may notice the futility presented by Harry whom only think of running away to Paris again. Furthermore, the third flashback is important for it depicts a sense of destruction and happiness. First, the narrator mentions the burning of Harry´s grandfather house “Then that log was burned down and all the guns that had been on deer foot racks above the open fire place were burned and afterwards their barrels…” (10), here, readers may notice that the house is completely burned down, which means destruction. After this, more destruction is presented by mentioning the disgrace of the proprietor of the hotel in Triberg who was caught up by a crisis, “The next year came the inflation and the money he had made the year before was not enough to buy supplies to open the hotel and he hanged himself” (11), so readers can realize the inescapable sense of annihilation mentioned by Harry in his memories; moreover, Harry really loved the place where he used to live in France. Even though he was poor, he was relatively happy in that place, “There never was another part of Paris that he loved like that, the sprawling trees, the old white plastered houses painted brown below, the long green of the autobus in that round square…” (11). The people in that town used to be poor, but they were happy in spite of the circumstances just like Harry. Hence, this flashback depicts a mix between destruction and happiness. The fourth flashback is important for it depicts the loyalty of a boy who was commanded to protect a barn, and when someone tried to barge in, he killed it and asked the narrator for help to carry the body. However, the poor little boy never thought to be taken to jail because of having committed a crime but to be rewarded instead, “He having no idea that he would be arrested. Thinking he had done his duty…and he would be rewarded” (13). This represents a misunderstanding since the poor little boy tried to help but he was taken to jail. Finally, the last flashback is the most important of all since it is the only one in which Harry does not regret of not having written since it is so painful to remember the wounded officer, Williamson, who was dying due to a bomb impact who even asks Harry to kill him “Shoot me, Harry. For Christ sake shoot me” (13); this scene is so terrifying for Harry that he gives him the morphine that he had saved for himself, “Nothing passed out Williamson until he gave him all his morphine tablets that he had always saved to use himself …” (13), Harry sacrifices his last morphine pill to help Williamson. This may give readers a sense of hope for Harry to survive since even though he is dying, his good deeds could save him from death. This may be seen as a way in which Harry may reach redemption. This redemption is the one that at the end helps Harry to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. To conclude, this last flashback is very important since it helps Harry to think that he is going to heaven. Harry dreams of himself flying over the Kilimanjaro, so he thinks he is in heaven though the reality is that he died in the plains of Africa.
To conclude, the use of animals is very significant in this story since the leopard and the hyena depict different stages and emotional feelings of Harry. First, the leopard represents Harry´s youth, and also the time when he went to the war and made good deeds. Also, the frozen leopard resembles Harry for afterwards along the story, readers may notice that Harry tries to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro, which signifies heaven. So, this search for God and immortality was made by both, the leopard and Harry. Furthermore, the hyena mainly represents the stage of death and ailment for it always goes to the camp where Harry stays to lurk him and wait for his decease. Also, the hyena resembles Harry for both of them stink, the hyena for it is its nature and Harry because of the illness that he is suffering from. Furthermore, the story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” presents a comparison and a contrast between mountains and plains. First, mountains are a symbol of life since the author uses some images such as waterfall, green-forest and so on. Also, these places represent the good events in Harry´s life; on the contrary, plains are a symbol of physical and psychological decay in Harry´s life since he is dying because of gangrene in his right leg. Furthermore, mountains and plains are similar because they both are stages in Harry´s life and teach Harry that life is passing by and the only certain thing is death. Moreover, the epigraph of the story reveals that Kilimanjaro, also called The House of God, symbolizes the paradise and the closeness to God, so people want to climb mountains in order to reach a spiritual essence. Furthermore, the leopard in epigraph represents strength, power, and courage because the leopard dies trying to fulfill a purpose which is get closer to God and trying to find the meaning of his life. Also, this leopard has been found dead, and his death represents the immortality of the leopard because he dies physically, but he will be remembered all the time because of his braveness. Moreover, Helen and Harry are a representation of chauvinistic society because Harry treats Helen badly, and also he sees her as a sexual object. In addition, Helen is also part of a chauvinistic stereotype because she is submissive at Harry´s treatments, and she is always there although he does not love her. Furthermore, Helen can be an example of a feministic woman because she has her own money, so she independent of Harry, and also she takes care of her child alone. Then, she likes to read and that means that she is learning and knowledge is important to avoid stereotypes in society. Also, the use of flashbacks is important to get the meaning of the story for all of them tell readers the background information about Harry´s life. In the first flashback, readers may notice a tone of loss of life and money through the stories told by the narrator. Then, the second flashback shows a time when Harry is trying to avoid feeling alone by hanging out with many women; however, he is not able to avoid it. Afterwards, the third flashback depicts a tone of destruction and happiness since the narrator describes how his grandfather´s house is burned down; also, he mentions the place where he uses to live in France, which represents a happy tone. Then, the fourth flashback is about the misguided loyalty of a choir boy who was sent to jail for being murdered a thief when being guarding a barn. Finally, the last flashback is the most important of all since in this one Harry helps a man who is dying due to a bomb impact; Harry gives him his morphine to release his pain.
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