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.
Scenes in the African encampment are full of hostile dialogue between Harry and his wife. Hemingway sparingly uses dialogue tags and relies on the tone of the conversation to convey who is speaking. Harry’s words are filled for the most part with disdain, but sometimes disinterest. Although Helen seems encouraging, saying the plane will come in time to save his life, she seems at times to disbelieve her own words. Still, she is determined to keep peace between them.
Hemingway never describes Harry, and his description of Helen does not mention hair color or skin tone, but her “good breasts and those useful thighs and those lightly small-of-back-caressing hands” and her pleasant smile. The writer focuses on attitudes, not physical attributes to convey character.
The flashbacks into Harry’s past are filled with sensory details that reflect Hemingway’s poetic style: “cool night,” “rose-petal” skin, running “until his lungs ached and his mouth was full of the taste of pennies,” “silvered gray of the sage brush,” “snow so bright it hurt your eyes,” “skis heavy on the shoulder.” Hemingway also appropriately uses similes: he described a day on the ski slope with “the snow as smooth to see as cake frosting and as light as powder and he remembered the noiseless rush the speed made as you dropped down like a bird.”
Hemingway stays in the third person except in Harry’s thoughts when he reverts to second person (you), which is not a technique commonly used by today’s writers.