Review of The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway

Symbols and Their Meanings In The Snows of Kilimanjaro By Ernest Hemingway

“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is a short story about a writer named Harry and his rich wife Helen who were on a safari in Africa. While on their safari, they encounter a problem when their truck temporarily breaks-down due to a burned-out bearing. Harry decides to photograph a herd of waterbuck while waiting for assistance and unfortunately is scratched by a thorn (Leard, 1988). In the process, gangrene develops in his right leg and he attributes the problem to his failure to apply iodine to the wound (Hemingway, 1961). He becomes irritated and pessimistic about a rescue plane, and goes as far as speaking about his own death. This irritates his wife vastly and they quarrel about everything from whether she should read to him to whether he should take whiskey and soda (Robinson 1952).

Harry begins to reminisce about his life and the fact that he feels he has never reached his true potential as a writer. He remembers his long trips to Europe and all his experiences there; he sleeps and wakes in the evening. Harry then gets multiple flashbacks and starts contemplating about all the writing he had to do, but realizes he will accomplish no more (Hemingway, 1961). When a rescue plane arrives, Harry feels like he is being transported over the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, only that this is not real, but just a dream. Helen later discovers that her husband died in his sleep and outside their tent, a hyena makes a noise which resembles that of a human.

The story focuses on two key themes: death and regret. It also shows Harry’s narrow thinking and how he takes his blessings for granted. He has a wealthy wife, a fine writing career and a full life well-lived and it is on his deathbed where he appreciates each of these blessings more. From this story, the writer portrays Harry’s predicaments as self-inflicted and should therefore pay for his acts of self-betrayal with the steepest price, which is death (Leard, 1988).

Harry can be described as a protagonist and an irritating individual. He is never satisfied by what the world has to offer and keeps on complaining unnecessarily. Helen on the other hand is understanding and calm. She treats her husband with respect even after her husband shows her only contempt (Hemingway, 2004).

Looking at the style, the writer narrates the story between Helen and Harry in a straightforward third person format and breaks into a italicized stream of consciousness for Harry’s many memory sequences (Robinson 1952). There is a massive use of symbolism in the story, as has been noted by different scholars and has been hotly contested on their true meanings. Hemingway uses two animals, a leopard and a hyena to symbolize what Harry wanted to become and what he has actually become. A leopard is well-known for its agility, speed strength and hunting capabilities. Hemingway shows it frozen and dead, depicting the lack of any of such qualities in Harry. The hyena is a scavenger and eats on the prey that other animals have caught. This is a quality present in Harry, feeding on the riches of his wife (Robinson 1952).

The hyena is also a lazy animal and unlike the leopard, which climbed the mountain on its own, Harry dreams of being airlifted by a helicopter, typifying his laziness. The low- lying hot plains throughout the story symbolize the painful and difficult situations that Harry had faced in his life, whereas the white snowy mountains symbolize Harry’s wishes of a comfortable life as a writer (Hemingway, 2004). The gangrene and the rotting of the leg symbolize the life that Harry has lived as a failed husband, writer, and human being. The snow-white mountain is an ambiguous symbol. It may represent heaven or hell, since it is the final resting place of Harry, but since it is white it is better suited to represent heaven (Robinson 1952). Harry may have done many selfish and evil deeds in his life, but he still had instances in life when he was kind and humane to others.

Metaphors and similes are also in abundance throughout the story. For example, Harry speaks to Helen, “love is a dunghill…and I am but the cock that gets on it to crow” and “your damned money was my armor”. During his memory sequences, he says, “the snow as smooth to see as cake frosting and as light as powder and he remembered the noiseless rush speed made as you dropped down like a bird” (Hemingway, 2004).


Leard, J. (1988). The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Glenbrook, N.S.W: J. Leard

Hemingway, E. (1961). The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and Other Stories. New York: Scribner.

Hemingway, E. (2004). The Snows of Kilimanjaro. London: Vintage

Robinson, C., & Hemingway, E. (1952). The Snows of Kilimanjaro. S.l: s.n..