BOOK CORNER: THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO by Ernest Hemingway

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–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

 

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

Ernest Hemingway

(1899-1961)

    ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ is regarded as one of Hemingway’s greatest works, alongside, ‘The Sun Also Rises’ and ‘A Farewell to Arms.’ The short story was published in August 1936 in Esquire magazine. Ernest Hemingway is an American Novelist. In the ‘Snows of Kilimanjaro’ the theme is of regret, conflict, redemption, acceptance, introspection and finally death.

    This story opens with a few lines about Mount Kilimanjaro. That happens to be the highest mountain of Africa … around 4900 meters. It is also referred as the ‘House of God.’ There also lies a frozen carcass of a leopard near the summit. But no one knows why it is there at such an altitude.   

    There we come across Helen and Harry. Harry is a writer dying of gangrene. Helen is accompanying him in this safari in Africa. They both are stranded in the camp, because a bearing of their truck’s engine has seized. Harry’s condition makes him extremely irritable. He starts mumbling about his impending death in an unemotional manner but in a sarcastic tone that upsets Helen. He quarrels with her over trivial things like. Whether he should have a whiskey with soda, to whether she should read to him. Helen of course is concerned about his welfare. But the growing frustration of Harry makes him talk to her in an irksome manner.

    Harry starts to ruminate about his vast and varied, life’s experiences. He in fact feels he was unable to climax his potential as a writer because he chose to make a living by marrying a wealthy woman. In the story there are certain italicized portions in the form of text that are scattered all throughout the story. Where, Hemmingway narrates certain experiences of Harry in a stream-of-conscious style. Harry’s initial memories consist of travelling around Europe following a battle, hiding a deserter in a cottage, hunting and skiing in the mountains, playing cards during a blizzard, and even hearing about a bombing-run on a train packed with Austrian officers.

    In spite of deep agony, Harry falls asleep and wakes up in the evening when he finds Helen returning from a shooting expedition. He ponders, on how she is considerate and good to him. And that she should not be blamed for the degradation of his talent as a writer. Helen, he recollects is a rich widow who lost her husband and a child. Thereafter, she was bored by a series of lovers. So, she finally acquired Harry because she wanted someone whom she could respect along with her own self. She loves Harry quite dearly as a writer, as a man, as a companion and as a proud possession. On the contrary Harry makes it clear that he does not love her. He then recalls how he contracted gangrene two weeks ago. They had been trying to take a picture of a waterbuck when Harry scratched his right knee on a thorn. He did not apply iodine right away so the wound got infected. And because all other antiseptics ran out. He used a weak carbolic solution that paralysed the minute blood vessels, because of which the leg developed gangrene.

    Helen returns to drink cocktails with Harry. They make up their quarrel. Thereafter Harry’s second memory sequence begins. He recollects how he once patronized prostitutes in Constantinople … to kill his loneliness. Pining for the very first woman he fell in love with. With whom he quarrelled in Paris and broke up. Harry also had a fight with a British soldier over an Armenian prostitute and he left Constantinople for Anatolia. Where, after escaping from a group of Turkish soldiers he had seen things that he could never have dreamt of and later he saw much worse. Then Harry recalls upon his return to Paris. Where, his then-wife enquires about a letter that was actually from Harry’s first love. A reply to the letter he had written to the woman sometime back that was mailed to New York, asking to write to his office in Paris while he was in Constantinople.

    Helen and Harry eat dinner and then Harry has another reminiscence. This time how his grandfather’s log house burned down one day. He then relates how he fished in the Black Forest. And how he lived in a menial quarter in Paris and felt a kind of kinship with his poor neighbours. Thereafter, he goes on to remember a ranch boy whom he turned into sheriff after the boy protected Harry’s horse feed by shooting and killing a thief.

    Harry ponders: ‘That was one story he could have written. He knew some twenty good stories from there. But he had never written one. But then, ‘why?’ He questioned himself. Then he once again felt he’d prefer to be in a different company rather than with Helen … as rich were dull. Next his thought drifted to beating the fear of death and the limits of being able to bear the pain. He recollects an officer named Williamson who was hit by a bomb and to whom Harry subsequently fed his morphine tablets. Harry considers he needn’t worry about his pain in his current condition.

    As Harry lies in his cot thinking about the happenings. He feels an overwhelming presence of death. And he associates it with the hyena that has been spotted running around the periphery of the campsite. He is unable to speak. Helen, thinking that Harry has fallen asleep has him placed inside the tent for the night. Harry dreams that it is morning and that a man called Compton has come with a plane to rescue him. He is put in the plane that has space only for him and the pilot. He watched the landscape go by, beneath him. Suddenly, he sees the snow covered top of Mount Kilimanjaro. He gets a feeling that is where he is bound for. Helen wakes up in the middle of the night to a strange cry of a hyena and finds Harry unresponsive on his cot. He had actually died.

    COMMENTS

    What is interesting about the story is its tone. Initially it starts with a regretful timbre, but in the final passage when he is flying over Kilimanjaro, Harry appears somewhat hopeful and calm.

    Hemmingway uses animals in the story as foreshadowing devices to highlight to the reader about Harry’s impending death. You can find this in the frozen carcass of the leopard, the vultures flying over the campsite sensing death and finally the sighting of the hyena.

    It is while Harry is waiting to die. Hemmingway, through flashbacks, gives readers some insight into Harry’s life. The flashback also highlights how Harry wasted his life by not writing about incidents that occurred in his own life.

    Each flashback has a theme such as … loss, loneliness and escapism, destruction and happiness, misguided loyalty and finally—there is as assumption that he is flying to heaven when the plane comes to pick him up.

   I would give the story nine out of ten.

      ***

Synopsis by Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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