In the opening of the story, Hemmingway begins with a short pitch epigraph, an observation of a lone dried leopard carcass that sought the tip of Mount Kilimanjaro, which the Maasai call "Ngaje Ngai," meaning the House of God (Hemingway, 2004). Harry, a writer, attempted to return the virtues of honesty, hard work, and struggles as a step in the right direction through his African safari. His previous life was characterized by luxury, idleness, and procrastination. The writer has lived under his wife’s (Helen) wealth, which has made him decline in his artistic work. The theme of self-pity and frustration are the most prevalent in Ernest Hemmingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, which is evidenced by the way Harry considers his status, and the manner in which his wife feels for him. Helen is obviously concerned about his husband’s welfare, but the nagging and discouraging comments from him makes Helen unpleasant. He begins to think, “The rich were dull and they drank too much” (Hemingway, 2004)
Most important to note when reading this book is the fact that both the writer and the main character of the story (Harry) were the “Lost Generation” of the First World War who had to rebuild their lives after seeing the horrors of the war and being wounded in combat. At some time, Hemmingway was quoted saying that women, politics, ambition, and drink befell all writers. From this quote and the writing of this story, some people have asserted that this short story reflects both Hemmingway’s and Harry’s concerns about leaving unfinished business as a writer, and the appropriate lifestyle for a writer. Due to the frustrations of failing to achieve his goals as writer, Harry quarrels with his wife everything as they are stuck in the wilderness, from the whether she should read to him to whether he should drink a whiskey. He continuously recall the events of his life, about the fact that he failed to accomplish his goals as a writer because he spent his time marrying wealthy women and living in the luxury of their wealth as he forgets to continue his work as a writer.
On the theme of self-pity, which closely relates to the frustration theme, this greatly irritates Helen so much. A thorn scratches Harry’s knee and he develops gangrene in his right leg. He keeps complaining and irritable talks about his death, which upsets his wife. Additionally, he pities himself for wasting time with wealthy women who kept him as a proud possession (Hemingway, 2004) until he met Helen, whom he also recalls that is a wealthy widow “ Her husband had died when she was still a comparatively young woman’ (Hemingway, 2004), who has spent her time with several lovers before they met. Even though she admired his writing, they had similar interest and he consoles himself that they had similar characteristics – several marriages and partners before – and he had nothing to lament over in connection to the previous wives.
Harry again pities himself in the story when he recalls the incidents surrounding the gangrene effect. He says "I suppose what I did was to forget to put iodine on it when I first scratched it. Then I didn't pay any attention to it because I never infect. Then, later, when it got bad, it was probably using that weak carbolic solution when the other antiseptics ran out that paralyzed the minute blood vessels and started the gangrene” (Hemingway, 2004). He definitely knows the exact things he should have done when the thorn first scratched his knee. He even knows the exact medication to use after he missed to apply the iodine. However, he neglects both of the above. He fails to use the iodine in the first place, and uses a weak carbolic solution on the gangrene. Now he laments about his death. The same thing happens in with Ivan Ilych falls from a ladder and bangs his side, he makes nothing of it and just laughs it off, but it later turns out to kill him (Tolstoy, & Nikolayevich, 1910).
At the point when Harry is suffering from the gangrene, stuck in the wilderness, and probably waiting for a rescue helicopter, which he is not sure, when he would see one, he wishes he written about his life encounters. However, he is sure that there is no time because he would certainly die. He even wishes he would write about this last experience in the mountain. He does not have good memories, or if he does, he sees the negative side of them. His memories are full of revenge, drinking, war, loose sex, and lost love, which represents a mix of sentimentality toward his human condition, self-indulgence, and unaccomplished goals. In my opinion, the setting of the story relates to the themes presented by the writer. The Kilimanjaro Mountain, being the highest mountain in Africa, is contrasted with the plains, where the mountain would relate to the difficult conditions and the plain the contrast. There are also other themes presented in this story such as death and the strength of a woman as Helen deals with his dying husband.
Ernest Hemmingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” shows a combination of themes that attract the attention of the readers. The themes presented in this story relate to the real life situations in people’s lives. Self-pity and frustration for unaccomplished goals are common occurrences in everyday’s life. I found the story so sorrowful, though enjoyable.
Ernest Hemingway. The Snows of Kilimanjaro. 2004
Tolstoy, Leo Nikolayevich. Death of Ivan Ilych. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. (1828-1910)