The Snows of Kilimanjaro

For short story #4, I’ve selected Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” from an anthology I have at home. As an aside, I found a number of other short story collections on my shelves while looking for this particular book. This speaks to my long-standing belief that I ought to read more stories as well as my lack of will to do so.

Hemingway is almost as famous for his stories as he is for his novels and his fascinating life. In the preface to the collection I own, The First Forty-Nine Stories, Hemingway lists “Snows” as among his personal favorites. Prior to reading this, I had selected another one which I didn’t particular admire so I am going with my second pick. First, I want to quote Hemingway from his preface.

“In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dull and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say or smooth and well-oiled in the closet, but unused.”

There is something here that makes me want to write my own stories, fiction or otherwise.

In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, Hemingway also refers to the writing process through the thoughts of his protagonist, a man, Harry, who is dying of gangrene from an accident while on safari in Africa. The story begins with a brief mention of a snow leopard which dies on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a reference that feels a bit obscure although the story circles back to the mountain at the end (which I will not reveal).

While Harry waits for rescue or death, he speaks with his girlfriend as she tends to him. Harry is not particularly likeable. He’s cruel to his lover, cynical about life in general, and waits for his own death which he imagines he sees coming for him. Between the present-day scenes in Africa he remembers his past in vivid scenes from Constantinople, Paris and Germany, and regrets the stories he hadn’t yet written.

I especially enjoyed Harry’s thoughts about his writing. Here is one longer passage:

“He had never written any of that because, at first, he never wanted to hurt anyone and then it seemed as though there was enough to write without it. . . . He had seen the world change; not just the events; although he had seen many of them and had watched the people, but he had seen the subtler change and he could remember how the people were at different times. He had been in it and he had watched it and it was his duty to write of it; but now he never would.”

One can’t help but imagine that these are thoughts Hemingway had about his own writing and one wonders how much of “Snows” is semi-autobiographical. Not the gangrenous injury, but the relationships, some of the flashbacks and the writerly sentiments. I know reams have been written about Hemingway, his life and his writing and I don’t intend here to launch into a scholarly analysis. I simply want to leave it that in a few pages, Hemingway has managed to create a feeling of connection, not just to Harry and his lover but also to the writer himself and a world beyond the borders of my own experience. My goal in buying this collection had been to learn more from a master stylist and I will definitely read more.

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