THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO: ANALYSIS OF THE CHARACTER HARRY AND THE PROJECTION OF HIS OWN GUILT
In this essay I discuss some important aspects related to the short story The snows of Kilimanjaro. It was written by Ernest Miller Hemingway, an American author and journalist who influenced the 20th century fiction. He produced most of his works between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, and won, in 1954, the Nobel Prize in Literature. The snows of Kilimanjaro was first published in Esquire in 1936 and shows a story about Harry, a man with a wounded leg who is in Africa with his wife Helen, waiting for help. Harry needs and waits for medicines that are supposed to come by truck or by plane. Harry is hopeless and wants to die, but his wife tries to cheer him up. As far as the story goes, we see Harry as a frustrated writer who lives the last moments of his life accusing Helen and her money for his unsuccessfulness.
Norman Fairclough writes about exclusion, inclusion and prominence of some elements in discourse. The scholar affirms that:
We can look at texts from a Representational point of view in terms of which elements of events are included, and which of the elements are excluded, and which of the elements that are included are given the greatest prominence or salience. (FAIRCLOUGH, 2003, p. 136)
The author of the short story made his choices for this text in order to show some aspects for the reader. Throughout this work we will show some aspects the author chose emphasizing aspects of the behavior of his characters. For example, this text was written after a ten-week safari trip to East Africa, in 1933. The narrator of Hemingway’s short story describes the beautiful nature and the abundance of animals that are in this environment. He uses animals like the hyena and the “big and filthy birds” to represent Harry’s feeling of approaching death. Harry looks at these birds, which come to him because of his leg’s scent, in case he ever wanted to use them in a story. In addition, his characters are also described in order to show what happens when a person does not make enough effort to achieve his dream. Harry’s selfishness is presented in this text as the opposing of his wife’s feelings, because while Harry threatens Helen with words, she asks him not to think so negatively. She tries to comfort him, but the only thing he can do is insulting her and saying that he doesn’t love her. Besides, Harry says that the wound on his leg is painless, despite the stench. It can be a sign that he does not feel the “pain” of the bad things he has done for himself and for other people around him. But being sorry for the bad odor that his leg causes can be a way to apologize himself or maybe an irony upon his desire to be shot by his wife.
Gancho (2003, p. 27) explains that “the third-person narrator is out of the events, so his point of view tends to be more impartial.” According to her, this kind of narrator has two main characteristics: omniscience and omnipresence. In Hemingway’s short story, we can point out that the narrator is omniscient, but sometimes he assumes the thoughts of the characters in the story. As Gancho (2003, p. 28) says, this kind of narrator can be classified as a “partial” narrator, it means that the narrator identifies himself with a particular character in the story and allows this character to have more space in the story, even if the narrator is not supporting explicitly this character.
The following excerpt of the short story is analyzed in order to explicit better Gancho’s words.
She shot very well this good, this rich bitch, this kindly caretaker and destroyer of his talent. Nonsense. He had destroyed his talent himself. Why should he blame this woman because she kept him well? He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and by prejudice, by hook and by crook. (BAYM, 2003, p. 1853)
In this excerpt, the narrator is in third-person telling about the characters with an omniscient and omnipresent view of the facts, but he chooses to show the point of view of the characters assuming different positions in the same paragraphs: the first, accusing Harry’s wife, and the second blaming Harry for his failure. To understand this text it is necessary to make, at least, two comments about these different, but not opposing ideas in the same paragraph. The first consideration is that the narrator puts himself in Harry’s voice, and in the next sentence, he stands for a voice that is against what he said previously. The second idea is that the author had used this language to emphasize Harry’s bad behavior, his bad thoughts about his wife, and his inability to write as a result of the excessive and inappropriate use of alcohol, money, and women. These different thoughts could also emphasize Harry’s ingratitude with his wife that takes care of him having loyal, affectionate, loving and courageous attitudes with her sick husband.
The quotation above gives us a description of Harry’s behavior. He blames his wife and her money for destroying his talent as a writer, but Harry did it by himself. His main sin was postponing on writing, because he would write when “he knew enough to write well” (BAYM, 2003, p. 1849), but in his opinion, this knowledge never came. The story shows his last moments, his claims and pain. He chooses dying due to the emptiness in his life derived from his frustration of never being able to write literature. At this point of the story he does not have time or heath enough to do it. He did not have any talent to discipline himself to write. He wanted death to stop the suffering caused by his consciousness upon his failure. Harry’s soul is just as rotted as his leg. According to Miksanek (2004, p. 1), “The gangrene of his leg is a striking metaphor for his self-destruction and wasted potential as a writer, husband, and human being”. Africa was his last opportunity and attempt to recover the talent he lost with “his wife’s money”. Harry feels himself like a wrongdoer for not have written when he could, but he is not able to make the path that goes from guilt toward commitment.
Another excerpt shows the changing voice of the narrator during the text:
Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them, and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting. Well he would never know, now. (BAYM, 2003, p. 1849-1850)
The narrator starts the paragraph narrating Harry’s life in third-person. Suddenly he begins to address his speech to the character as if he could speak directly to the character and not just as a third-person narrator. The narrator ends the paragraph back with the original speech, and tells the reader the possibilities of Harry’s actions.
Throughout the text, the narrator gives the reader some flashbacks, which are written in italics, about the past of Harry’s life. These flashbacks present essential information to understand Harry’s situation and the waste of his talent by not writing while he could. Helen fell in love with Harry because of what he wrote when he was in prison. But he got rich “because of his wife’s money” and couldn’t write because of so many things that occupied his mind instead of writing. So, they decided to go to Africa to have the possibility of writing again. But, he waits for the moment to have the talent to write and it does not come, because he does not start writing.
At this point of the analysis we can ask: Was Harry determined by the environment? To help us answer this question, Fairclough (2003, p. 25) says that “the relationship between [the] different elements of social practices is dialectical”. He points out these dialogical elements as: action and interaction; social relations; persons; the material world; and discourse. Complementing this idea, Meurer (2005, p.88) says that simultaneously the discourse is influenced by the social structures and conversely, influences them. With these ideas we can understand that Harry was responsible for his failure by not using the opportunities he had to make progress in his writing. Of course he had lots of things that occupied his mind, but he could have made a selection of what he considered the priority, if writing was a priority for him.
At the top of the text, there is an epigraph that introduces the text. At first glance, the reader can realize, or not, the connection that this epigraph or the title has with the text. In this epigraph, the Kilimanjaro is described as a snow covered mountain, which is the highest of Africa, called the House of God. What draws the attention is that there is a dried and frozen carcass of a leopard, which was hunting something at that altitude. The point is that the determination of the leopard is just the opposite of Harry’s motivation of being a writer. Harry is not able to transcend and achieve his objective. In the very end Harry has a hallucination, in which he is saved by a helicopter and, instead of going to Arusha the pilot turns left toward the Kilimanjaro. At that moment he transcends what he could not do during his life, but it is in his final moment and he cannot write anymore.
By this analysis, we can conclude that The snows of Kilimanjaro provides a reflection about altitude and attitude. The leopard has attitude, but Harry does not have enough attitude to reach the altitude he wanted in his life. It was easier for Harry to blame the environment, his wife and her money for his unsuccessfulness rather than try to correct his mistaken and perverted life. Only in the end of his life he realizes what he could have done in his life, but he does not have time anymore to do it.
BAYM, Nina (ed.). The Norton anthology of American literature: between the wars – 1914-1945. 6. ed. Nova York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2003.
FAIRCLOUGH, Norman. Analyzing discourse: textual analysis for social research. New Yourk: Routledge, 2003.
GANCHO, Cândida Vilares. Como analisar narrativas. 7. ed. São Paulo: Ática, 2003.
MEURER, José Luiz; BONINI, Adair; MOTTA-ROTH, Desiree (Orgs.). Gêneros: teorias, métodos, debates. São Paulo: Parábola Editorial, 2005.MIKSANEK, Tony. Literature annotation: Hemingway, Ernest: The snows of Kilimanjaro. Available at http://litmed.med.nyu.edu/ Annotation? action=view&annid=12230. Accessed on 11/24/2010.
Sob orientação do professor Ms. Rodrigo Jappe, na disciplina Literatura Norte-Americana II