“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” was first published in Esquire in August 1936 and is one of Ernest Hemingway’s most frequently anthologized short stories. It opens with the protagonist, Harry, a washed-up writer who has gone to Africa with his wife, Helen, to start over as an artist. But his intended regeneration is destroyed by his neglect and carelessness in tending to an accidental scratch, which is symbolically parallel to the way he destroyed his talent in the first place. While gangrene eats away at him, Harry takes stock of his life, remembers his past and the neglect of his craft, and bemoans the stories he will never write. He quarrels with Helen, the wealthy wife who tries to comfort and care for him. Although he blames her money for providing the luxury and comfort that have caused him to go soft and neglect his writing, he knows that he is really the one to blame. She is only a convenient scapegoat for his failure; her story as he recounts it portrays her as blameless, in fact praiseworthy, for she has survived personal tragedy and constructed a new life. Harry, on the other hand, has destroyed his talent through overindulgence, sloth, and laziness.
In 1952 the story was made into a movie starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward. The film-script was even more autobiographical than Hemingway’s story, and it changes the ending so that Harry does not die. Hemingway claims the movie was only one-third the story he had written.
There are many autobiographical allusions in “Snows.” When writing the story, Hemingway felt anxious about the slowing of his writing productivity. He was also struggling with ambivalent feelings about his involvement with wealthy sportsmen and a socialite crowd that the money of his wife Pauline and his fame had gained him. A recent African safari had been paid for by his wife’s uncle, and Hemingway had turned down a wealthy woman’s offer to finance another trip. He said that the story grew out of his starting “to think what would happen to a character like me whose defects I know, if I had accepted that offer.”
Harry’s memories are fragments, vignettes, or sketches. They are the raw material for stories but unstructured and unshaped. In them he recalls the other women in his life and the way he had quarreled with them too. Mount Kilimanjaro looms as a symbol of an ascent Harry does not attempt. Harry increasingly associates death with carrion-feeding creatures, the vultures and hyenas that circle the camp. He pictures death as a hyena whose foul breath he smells, who rests its snout upon his bed and finally crouches with its full weight upon his chest. In his death dream, the rescue plane arrives and he flies in it over the snowy top of Kilimanjaro. The story ends with the hyena’s strange noises awakening Helen to the horror of Harry’s inert form.
Elia, Richard L. “Three Symbols in Hemingway’s ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro.’ ” Revue des Langues Vivantes (1975): 282–285.
Evans, Oliver. “ ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’: A Revaluation.” PMLA 76 (September–December 1961): 601–607.
Flora, Joseph M. Ernest Hemingway: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1989, 81–88.
Johnston, Kenneth G. The Tip of the Iceberg: Hemingway and the Short Story. Greenwood, Fla.: Penkevill, 1987, 195–204.
Lewis, Robert W., Jr., and Max Westbrook. “ ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ Collated and Annotated.” Texas Quarterly 13, no. 2 (1970): 67–143.
MacDonald, Scott. “Hemingway’s ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’: Three Critical Problems.” Studies in Short Fiction (1974): 67–74.
Santangelo, Gennaro. “The Dark Snows of Kilimanjaro.” In The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: Critical Essays, edited by Jackson J. Benson, 251–261.
Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1975.