Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois, the son of Clarence and Grace Hemingway. His first published works appeared in the Oak Park High School newspaper and the school’s literary magazine. After graduation, he worked as a reporter covering the police and hospital beat for the Kansas City Star. The allure of World War I appealed to him, and he enlisted with the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. Not long after he arrived in Italy in 1918, he was severely wounded when a bomb exploded near the front line where he was delivering canteen supplies. After a lengthy recovery during which he wrote short stories and received many rejections from magazine editors, he began writing features for the Toronto Star newspaper.
First published in the August, 1936, issue of Esquire, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” has been called Hemingway’s short story masterpiece. He wrote the story after his first safari to Africa and was so fascinated by the place that he told reporters he wanted to go back as soon as he had enough money. A wealthy woman read his remarks and offered to finance the trip for Hemingway, his wife Pauline, and herself. Hemingway turned her down, but he wondered what the trip would have been like if he had gone, and the story was born from that notion.
Harry, the protagonist of the story, is a writer. As he lies near death on a cot in the African wilds, his thoughts go back to his life experiences. Hemingway skillfully develops Harry’s character by use of his cutting words to his wife, his memories of other women and other times, his attitude towards death, and his ceaseless drinking even when he knows it is harmful.
Hemingway’s masterpiece is divided by printer’s regular type for the main story and italics for the flashbacks that take place in Harry’s mind. The imagined plane ride is told in regular print, giving the reader momentary pause before discovering that it is not real, but only in Harry’s mind as he faces his final living moment.
1. Hemingway had heard about the frozen carcass of a leopard on Mount Kilimanjaro from a former safari guide. Why did he begin his story with that information? Does it relate in any way to the hyena that comes near the camp, or does it relate to the plane trip that Harry imagined?
1. Harry mentions the names of many places he has visited during his life. With the help of an atlas, locate the towns and list them and the countries they are in.
Hemingway relies on the basic value of “grace under pressure” (his motto for his own life) when creating Characters who are faced with death. He has instilled this value in Harry and in many of the heroes in his novels and short stories.