Kilimanjaro, the highest peak on the African continent, is a place of crippling beauty, adventure and legend. Considered one of the great natural wonders of the world, Mount Kilimanjaro has been celebrated in artwork, books, films and songs. Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro is one of the most iconic works of literature, a short story based on his 1933 safari to Africa.
Published in 1936, The Snows of Kilimanjaro depicts the last days of Harry, a Robert Graves-like traveler, who has been injured while on safari in Africa. Harry soon learns of his impending death as he reflects on his failures throughout his life. According to Walter Minkel from the Smithsonian Magazine, Harry’s thoughts “meander from the ivory poaching of his youth to the writing projects he missed. He also meditates on death and its ability to destroy life’s illusions and ambitions”.
Peter Matthiessen, author of The Snow Leopard, explains that the story of Harry is an ironic one. Perhaps as a result of his injuries, Harry becomes acutely aware of his own mortality and the tragedy of squandered potential. He reflects on his own life and the misery of being a spectator to privileged life, reflecting on themes of fate, death, loss, and the human condition. Harry is a man of the world, and the mountain a symbol of his life’s journey and the pitfalls that await.
The plot of The Snows of Kilimanjaro is undoubtedly fueled with angst, but Hemingway constructs much more than a tragedy. He provides a glimpse into an artist’s soul and the alienation of fame. His candid writing style captures the raw emotion of the situation, and his descriptions of the landscape illustrate the magnificence of the mountain. His vivid metaphors convey an appreciation of life in the face of death and evoke a sense of wonder in the reader.
The Characters in The Snows of Kilimanjaro
The characters in The Snows of Kilimanjaro are symbols of life and death, hope and despair. The story is primarily told through Harry’s inner monologues and musings. He is a complicated and unhappy man who is desperately looking for answers. As his wife, Helen, sits beside him, he discovers a newfound respect for her. While she has been a source of comfort throughout their relationship, Harry recognizes the strength of her character and begins to confide in her his deepest thoughts and feelings. Through her guidance, Harry is able to face his demons and confront his mortality.
In contrast to Helen’s resilient spirit, Harry’s friend, Stephenson, provides an outlook based on escape from suffering. He embodies the idea that life is fleeting and this should be reflected in living to the limit. He is a symbol of hedonism and indulgence, and his interactions with Harry demonstrate the folly of this lifestyle. In the end, both characters help Harry to make the ultimate peace with himself and his fate. His final thoughts demonstrate his newfound appreciation for life, even in the face of death.
The Symbolism of Kilimanjaro
Surrounding Harry’s personal story is an all-encompassing sense of nature’s beauty and power. Kilimanjaro plays an important role in the story, not only as a setting and a physical presence but also as a metaphysical symbol of Harry’s journey and his struggles. The mountain is a source of solace, hope and closure. Harry’s ultimate redemption lies in his acceptance of his mortality and embrace of his final moments in the majestic grandeur of Kilimanjaro.
Of course, the story does not offer a great life lesson. On a more practical level, however, it serves as a reminder of the fragility of life, and particularly of Harry’s privileged life. The mountain is a reminder of the limitations of humanity and an acknowledgement of the limitations of life itself. Harry gainins wisdom from his experience, one that will remain with him beyond the tragedy.
Critical Reception to The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Since its publication, The Snows of Kilimanjaro has earned substantial critical acclaim. It is widely considered to be one of Hemingway’s best works, and The New York Times hailed it as a “masterpiece”. Critics were drawn to its powerful symbolism and psychological exploration of a man’s inner self. The beauty of the natural world served as a backdrop to Harry’s musings, and his struggles were deeply intertwined with that beauty. The story has been interpreted in a number of ways, but the underlying message of resilience in the face of death has been universally admired.
Since its initial publication, the story has been more deeply analyzed as part of Hemingway’s larger body of work. Many critics have pointed out parallels between Heminway’s own life and Harry’s experience. Some have argued that the story was actually a memoir, with Hemingway drawing on his own life experiences to build the character of Harry. Whether this is true or not, there is no doubt that The Snows of Kilimanjaro is Heminway’s attempt to grapple with his mortality and the slow dissolution of the dreams that he once held.
Significance of The Snows of Kilimanjaro
From the moment of its publication, The Snows of Kilimanjaro has captured the attention of readers, inspiring them to reflect on their own lives and the human experience. Hemingway’s storytelling style is direct and blunt, yet passionate and evocative. As Harry faces death in the vastness of Kilimanjaro, his confrontation with mortality resonates with the reader and allows them to explore their own understanding of death, loss and redemption.
The story has been reinterpreted and reimagined over the years, in films, books and music. Its influence can be found in literature, philosophy, and culture. The story stands as a stark reminder of the fragility of life and of the need to live each day in a way that reflects our essential humanity. The story of Harry and Kilimanjaro ultimately conveys a powerful and timeless message of overcoming adversity and living a life of authenticity and purpose.
Modern Adaptations of The Snows of Kilimanjaro
The story of Kilimanjaro has taken on a life of its own and has been adapted many times in various media formats. Hemingway’s iconic story has been the subject of numerous books, films and folk songs. In many of these adaptations, the impact of Hemingway’s story still resonates.
Perhaps one of the best-known adaptations is Jans Rautenbach’s film The Snows of Kilimanjaro, which is based on Hemingway’s story. The movie, released in 1952, follows Harry’s journey to Kilimanjaro and his confrontation with mortality. The film pays homage to Hemingway’s style, with its minimalist dialogue and symbolic imagery.
A popular 1980s television adaptation was Kilimanjaro: A Light in the Forest. The movie follows the story of a hunter and his wife, who discover a young girl in Kilimanjaro. It draws on many of the themes explored by Hemingway in his story, such as the human connection to nature, our mortality, and the power of endurance and hope.
Hemingway’s story has also served as an inspiration for numerous musicians, including jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, whose record The Motherless Child is based on The Snows of Kilimanjaro. Musical tributes have also been paid by Sting and Billy Joel, both of whom have referenced the story in their songs.
Since its initial publication in 1936, The Snows of Kilimanjaro has become an enduring work of literature. Hemingway’s story resonates with readers from all walks of life, providing a snapshot of a man’s inner struggles and his rediscovery of life in the face of death. It speaks to the power of nature and the importance of living life with authenticity and purpose. Through its various adaptations, The Snows of Kilimanjaro continues to inspire and serves as a reminder of how fleeting life is and how we should make the most of each moment.