The Snows of Kilimanjaro | Study Guide

Ernest Hemingway

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The Snows of Kilimanjaro | Plot Summary & Analysis

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Dying in Africa

An opening epigraph describes Mt. Kilimanjaro's stature and significance in Africa as the "House of God." It also describes a native legend about the mysterious presence of a leopard's frozen carcass near its summit.

Harry, an American visiting Africa, lies on a cot suffering from gangrene (the death of body tissue usually resulting from infection) in his right leg. He tells his wife, Helen, the process of losing his leg has become painless as the decay increases since he cannot feel anything. He observes several large vultures surrounding his cot. Harry and Helen's truck has broken down, stranding them at their campsite. They're waiting for a plane. Helen thinks the plane will arrive; Harry doesn't. Helen offers to read to Harry while they wait. Harry says there's nothing she can do. He's convinced he is dying. Helen assures him he will survive if he doesn't give up and discourages him from drinking alcohol. Harry requests drinks from a servant anyway.

While Harry doesn't feel pain or fear, he does feel "a great tiredness and anger." He's been obsessed with death for many years, and now that he believes he will soon die, he's apathetic about it. He realizes he'll never write all the stories he's been saving.

Helen wishes the couple had never come to Africa. She asks why this misfortune has happened to them. Harry can only factually explain that when he scratched his leg, he didn't treat it with iodine, allowing an infection to set in. He blames the truck driver for incompetence and Helen for leaving her wealthy family to be with him. Helen professes her love; Harry replies he's never loved her. He comes to regret saying it.

Memories of Snow

The story features Harry's internal monologue as he recalls scenes and events from his life in an increasingly dreamlike way. He remembers waiting in a train station in Karagatch, Turkey, after World War I, which he meant to write about. As an "exchange of populations," or forced migration, takes place (returning Greeks from Turkey to Greece and sending Turks from Greece to Turkey), the officials in charge mistakenly send the migrants on a lethal journey through snow-filled mountains.

The image of snow leads Harry to recall snow in many other places—the Austrian mountain valley (Gauertal) where he and other army men helped a deserter; skiing in Schruns, Austria; a mountain lodge (the Madlenerhaus) where he gambled through a blizzard; and a Christmas morning when he heard the news of a bombing attack on Austrian officers. The United States declared war on both Germany and Austria-Hungary during World War I, and Harry recalls the various locations of battles he fought against those countries. As Harry's mind becomes confused, he thinks of skiing with the same Austrians he killed during the war. His mind returns briefly to more pleasant memories of skiing on the Austrian slopes.

Harry and Helen's Relationship

Harry and Helen discuss the hotels where they stayed while living in Paris. Upset with Harry's combative remarks, Helen asks if he plans to destroy everything he leaves behind when he dies. Harry continues to insult Helen until she's in tears. Blaming his impending death for his cruelty, Harry apologizes and lies to Helen, saying he loves her, before insulting her yet again. He claims he doesn't like to "leave things behind" but does not say what those things are.

Waking from a nap, Harry notices the birds have moved to a tree. Helen, a skilled hunter, has gone to the plain to shoot since they will need food. Harry lies to women out of habit, he thinks, and it's not Helen's fault. He's always wanted to write about the rich, a group he sees as foreign and strange. But living in comfort eventually kept him from writing. He thought traveling to Africa would force him out of a life of luxury and "work the fat off his soul" so he could write again. He's been happy in Africa, and so has Helen.

Harry admits Helen has been a good partner, and he's falsely blamed her for destroying his writing talent when his own habits are to blame. He's been with many wealthy women and treats them better when he doesn't love them. Harry contemplates the nature of talent and wonders if he has a talent for writing at all.

When Helen returns from the plain, Harry recalls details from her life. She was widowed at a young age and began drinking heavily. After losing a child in a plane crash, she felt lonely and married Harry to rebuild her life. She admired his writing, and he found security and comfort in being with her. Now he's going to die simply and absurdly because he failed to treat a scratch on his leg. Harry thinks Helen's life will change yet again after he is gone.

Harry compliments Helen on her shooting, and she replies that she loves Africa. She's glad Harry seems to feel better. She feels confident the plane will arrive the next day, and Harry's leg will be fixed. The two drink together and watch a hyena ominously cross a hill. Harry momentarily feels content, and at the same time, he's suddenly certain he is going to die. Helen goes into their tent to take a bath, and Harry is grateful they've stopped fighting for now.

Memories of Europe and the War

In another memory, Harry recalls a night alone in Constantinople, Turkey. He and his former wife were living in Paris, and he had fled after a fight. He'd recently written a letter to another former lover, confessing he'd never been able to kill his loneliness or his love for her. He still missed her deeply. In Constantinople Harry went out dancing and met an Armenian street woman. He got into a fistfight with a British soldier over the woman before taking her home.

Later that night Harry traveled alone to Anatolia, Turkey, thinking of an attack his army made on Turkish officers during the war. References to a British officer suggest Harry may have been an allied member of the British attacks on Turkey, in the war's Middle Eastern theater. The battle traumatized him; he has more horrific memories of the war he doesn't describe but which he can't recall without pain.

Harry returned to Paris and to his wife, passing American and European artists in a café. When his former lover replied to his letter, he failed to hide the correspondence from his wife. He never reunited with his former lover as a result.

He recollects experiences he's intended to write about eventually—good and bad times with lovers as well as changes he's seen in global events and human behavior. It was "his duty" to document everything, but now he's out of time, sensing death coming near.

Meanwhile, Helen returns from her bath and encourages Harry to eat again. Harry says it's no use; he somehow knows he'll die that night. Finally, to appease Helen, he accepts some broth. While he gazes at Helen and admires her, he feels death return like "a wind that makes a candle flicker." He asks Helen if she can take dictation, and she says she can't.

Memories of Childhood and Paris

Harry retreats again into his memories and visualizes a log house above a lake where he lived as a child. This section shifts points of view from third to first person as if Harry is speaking directly to an intimate listener.

Harry pictures his grandfather's gun collection, which disappeared when the log house burned down. Remembering the ashes of that childhood home leads his mind by association to a memory of a trout stream in Germany's Black Forest, where he fished after the war, and a German hotel where he stayed with friends. The hotel's proprietor hanged himself, likely due to the hotel's bankruptcy. Harry references the hyperinflation in 1923 Germany, which made the German economy temporarily collapse.

His mind travels to Paris, where he pictures people and ordinary places that characterized the city for him. He lived in a poor neighborhood with unruly neighbors. His acquaintances ignored their poverty through drinking and exercise.

Harry loved his home and neighborhood in Paris more than any other spot in the city. He recalls details of his surroundings—the view from his window, the nearby shops, and the conversations of his neighbors in the streets.

Helen tells Harry to eat more, but Harry would prefer a drink. He thinks he'll have "all there is" soon, and waits for death to come, but it doesn't arrive yet.

Final Memories

Harry continues to remember other stories he's never written. He recalls in vivid detail a ranch where he once stayed. On the ranch, Harry knew a young, mentally disabled chore boy who was abused and threatened by an older man. The boy killed the man and left him in the snow. Harry took the boy to bury the body, and the boy trusted him as a protector. Rather than hiding the young man from the authorities, Harry turned him over to the sheriff. Harry meant to write this specific story, along with several others, and wonders why he did not.

Harry thinks even if he lives he'll never write about Helen and her wealthy family, people he finds "dull and repetitious." He remembers a fellow writer's despair at discovering the rich were ordinary people, not a "glamorous race." Harry realizes he can't be ruined by anything if he doesn't care about it enough, and he wants to treat death the same way—by not caring. However, he still fears pain.

Harry also reflects on a fellow officer, Williamson, who was severely injured by a German hand grenade. Williamson begged Harry and the other officers to kill him. Though he was overcome with pain, Williamson stayed alive until he overdosed on Harry's morphine tablets, which still "did not work right away."

Mt. Kilimanjaro

Harry thinks he has it easy, in a sense, as his life is ending. He imagines, briefly, who he'd like to be with and realizes he'd rather be alone. He feels as bored with dying as he has been with life.

Sitting outside in the evening's firelight, Harry and Helen have a friendly conversation. Harry feels death visit him again and tells Helen the only thing he's never lost is curiosity. Harry senses death sitting beside him on the cot. He says death doesn't appear as "a scythe and a skull" but an ordinary object, like a bird or a hyena.

Death comes closer even though Harry tells it to go away. He feels death weighing down on his chest so he can't speak. He hears Helen asking the servant to take Harry's cot into their tent.

The next morning Harry hears the plane as he wakes. Boys clear a landing path for the plane, and Compton, the pilot, arrives and approaches Harry. The two men talk briefly before Compton and the boys load Harry into the plane. There is no room for anyone else. As the plane rises over Africa, Harry watches the landscape and the animals. He pays attention to a herd of wildebeest ascending the mountains.

Unexpectedly, the pilot diverts from the planned route and flies toward the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Harry sees the white mountaintop and knows he's headed there.

The narrative reverts to the previous night in Africa, where Helen dreams fitfully, disturbed by a crying hyena. Readers learn Harry had dreamed the arrival of the plane. Harry is still on the ground. Helen takes the flashlight out and checks on Harry. The dressings have come off Harry's leg in the middle of the night. When Helen calls to Harry, he doesn't respond, and she can't hear him breathing. Her heart beats so loudly she cannot hear the hyena continue to cry.


Harry as Stoic Hemingway Code Hero

From the epigraph about the mountain and its iconic leopard, readers can tell exploration and traveling will be important to the story. They may also discern that death will figure in the narrative, foreshadowed by the leopard's mysterious frozen carcass.

True to his Iceberg Theory, Hemingway explains nothing to readers at the beginning of the story. Information about the setting, the characters, and their predicament is revealed gradually. Readers don't even learn the characters' names right away.

Harry shows his personality and worldview through dialogue and gesture first, before his internal monologue of memories unfolds. His opening statement about death is both jaded and upbeat—"the marvelous thing is that it's painless." Harry's physical feelings parallel his emotional conflict. His view of approaching death is contemplative and regretful, not anguished and painful.

He doesn't associate death with the traditional iconography of "a scythe and a skull" but with objects and animals he sees in the world. Death is just a part of life for him; he's seen plenty of death in the war. When Helen asks, "What have we done to have that happen to us?" she's most likely wondering about some moral wrong the two might have committed to deserve the punishment of Harry dying young from a preventable infection. Harry answers her with a factual explanation showing the chain of cause and effect. Things could have turned out differently if Harry and Helen had made different choices, but they didn't, and right and wrong is irrelevant now. This brief exchange shows the difference in Harry's and Helen's worldviews. Helen believes they have the ability to better their circumstances through reading a book to pass the time or talking to keep their spirits up. Harry believes circumstances are what they are. He has at this point "very little curiosity" about death, which bores him as much as life. He applies the same absence of judgment to his memories.

But as resigned as he is, Harry hasn't accepted his imminent death at the beginning of the story. He's action oriented, and he believes he has left his life's work unfinished. Failure, both failure to achieve and failure to plan, is on Harry's mind. In the incident leading to his fatal injury, he and Helen are trying to photograph African waterbuck. They ultimately fail to get the picture—a turn of situational irony Hemingway uses to show the futility of human effort.

The narrator describes the gradual destruction of Harry's talent in a rhythmic sentence typical of the wordplay and repetition in Hemingway's work: "by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and by prejudice, by hook and by crook." Harry's lapses in personal discipline extend beyond his career to his outdoors skills. He hasn't always been lazy. The glimpses into his past show he's capable of surviving in challenging climates all over the world. But his failure to attend to the scratch on his leg and to have an exit route from the plains leads to his death. In life, as in writing, attention to detail and personal discipline are everything.

Harry's speech shows the cynical and searching mindset of the lost generation. He lapses into rhymes ("rich bitch") and song lyrics ("it's bad for me, this knowledge that you're going mad for me"). His use of American composer Cole Porter's "bad for me" line illustrates Harry's cynicism about both his impending death and the couple's floundering relationship. Porter's music was famous for its depictions of the wealth and alienation experienced by the lost generation, particularly by Americans abroad. Porter, like Harry and Hemingway (with whom he was friends) frequented Paris in the 1920s, joining many other artists and intellectuals who flocked to France's metropolitan capital. Porter's songs occasionally referenced Americans escaping to Paris and imagining a familiarity with the city. Harry's descriptions of Paris show he's one of the admiring outsiders—a resident but still a visitor—about whom Porter was writing.

He vacillates between complimenting Helen, insulting her, and apologizing. His closely guarded emotions are mainly "tiredness and anger that this was the end of it." He rails against death itself, a fate that seems unjust, even though it's inevitable. The tension between his desires and his actual circumstances provokes inner turmoil.

Hemingway reveals character through dialogue by highlighting Harry and Helen's different interpretations of similar ideas. They spar and antagonize one another, and even when they're outwardly pleasant, their ideas about the future diverge significantly.

In many ways they fundamentally don't understand each other. When Helen says, "You might think about someone else," she wants him to have empathy for her own grief. Harry responds, "For Christ's sake ... that's been my trade." He's not considering empathy for those he loves; instead, he's thinking about the people whose lives he documents in his writing. This brief exchange shows their dissimilar ideas about how to act toward others. Helen's inability to take dictation as Harry considers getting some ideas down while he still has time also highlights symbolically their breakdown in communication.

Harry's settled for less than he wanted. The story is a journey toward Harry's (and Helen's) acceptance of his death and the life he's lived. His journey is illustrated not only through his memories but also through the ways he conceptualizes death. Africa's natural beauty and menace lead him to see death as an animal—a hyena or a bird with terrible breath. When Harry thinks of Paris, Hemingway also personifies death. Instead of taking the shape of a vulture or hyena, it is an entity that travels in pairs, on bicycles. Harry believes, "it must have gone around another street." As he views the totality of his life and the wonder of the world around him, he sees death as the unreachable top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Helen as Caretaker and Destroyer

In many ways Helen is portrayed as Harry's opposite: she is emotional, optimistic, pragmatic, and comfortable with her wealth. Hemingway thus presents her as a foil for Harry—a character whose qualities contrast his, highlighting each other's traits. By not examining their past, Helen avoids dwelling on distressing scenarios. The two provide each other with stability after their fractured pasts. When Harry asks where the two stayed in Paris, she names the hotel "where we always stayed." Helen sees this consistency in a positive light.

Helen is quintessentially American in her desire to rebuild and remake her life. Harry describes the "regular progression" she falls into whenever she has a major life change or takes a new lover. She approaches new experiences with gusto, loving "anything that was exciting, that involved a change of scene." Each of them has dealt with suffering and personal loss by reinventing things: Helen has reinvented herself, while Harry has reinvented the world through his writing.

Helen is presented as a type of destroyer as well as a life-giving force. She's nurturing, acquiescing to Harry's unspoken desire for women to rescue and care for him, yet she shoots a Tommy (Thomson's gazelle) as she tries to nurse Harry back to health. Harry jokes that she could shoot him too and help him avoid lingering death. Although he considers Helen kindly, he still blames her for his destruction—in this case the destroyer of his talent.

Hemingway believed the things that harm a writer are, as he wrote in Green Hills of Africa, "politics, women, drink, money, ambition. And the lack of politics, women, drink, money, and ambition." These factors—and the lack of them—are all present in Harry's life. Helen's wealth takes the challenge out of writing for Harry. No longer living in poverty and struggling for subsistence, he becomes relaxed and lazy in body and soul.

Helen represents a different coping mechanism of the lost generation—turning to the safety and promise of wealth. Before taking responsibility for his own complacency, Harry falls into the temptations of Helen's lifestyle. A huntress, she views him as a trophy, a "proud possession." Harry's drinking becomes a sign of defiance and a desire to maintain his identity. Helen, once a heavy drinker herself, recognizes Harry's tilt into oblivion and wants to keep him fighting for life. She's dealt with the death of her loved ones through living vigorously, not through giving up.

The two are both "destroying" each other. Helen feels Harry is destroying her self-esteem by dismissing their relationship, which she values. She thinks sexual encounters are "the good kind of destruction." Harry and Helen relate to one another viscerally, through sex and physical actions like hunting. Hemingway, who saw a connection between the challenges of writing and hunting, believed in the value of physical activity to reveal truth in the struggle.

The moment of truth at the end of the story is marked by two bodily actions, which represent both destruction and new beginnings: Harry's hallucinatory ascension of the mountain and Helen's weeping. Two dreams also signify the passage from life into death. Harry's vision of the plane ride is more vivid and packed with natural imagery. He gets a panoramic view of Africa and can see "all there is."

Helen's dream is simpler, focused on home and a childhood memory. Her goals are more modest than Harry's, and she's lived vicariously through his dreams. Now she'll have to reinvent her life again. Harry's death is a kind of death and potential rebirth for her, too. The silent beating of Helen's heart at the end of the story reminds readers she is still alive and has a chance to make changes, but Harry and his ideas —all the stories he meant to write—are gone.

Memories: Stories Spanning History

As Harry prepares to die, he looks back on the central events of his adult life. Some of the incidents he describes seem minor, even everyday: an afternoon spent skiing in Austria or a conversation between neighbors overheard on the Paris streets. Others have meaning Harry only realizes after the fact: the Armenian woman he sleeps with after confessing his love to his first wife and his encounter with the chore boy. Others are pivotal, like the exchange of populations and Williamson's death. His flashbacks share the common thread of regret. He wishes certain events hadn't happened or that he'd acted differently. His memories are a way to avoid "[leaving] things behind," as he dies with unfinished business and unfinished work.

His memories focus on several key concerns for the lost generation, including the erosion of morality after World War I. Harry recalls drinking, having extramarital affairs, and observing or taking part in acts of revenge, hedonism, and physical violence.

The lyricism of Harry's recollections contrasts with the straightforward dialogue more typical of Hemingway. The story uses modernist stream-of-consciousness techniques to depict Harry's past, where one scene and location drifts into the next. Run-on sentences create impressions rather than a plot line. This writing style mirrors the way the mind works when recalling events—in patterns and sensations rather than in logical sequence—although two of Harry's memories near the end of the story unfold as short, discrete narratives.

The first recollection parallels Hemingway's war experiences in the Balkans and Austria. Weather, snow in particular, becomes both enchanting and deadly, like many natural events on the East African plain.

"Exchange of populations" refers to the Greek and Turkish Population Exchange of 1923. After World War I and the destruction of the Ottoman Empire of Turkey, military authorities oversaw vast numbers of Greek and Turkish refugees crossing the borders for resettlement. Harry remembers a particular directive that sent a group of migrants into severe winter weather, causing many of them to die in the snow.

Harry is consumed by thoughts of others who have suffered and died and their physical state during and after death. He recalls "the deserter with his feet bloody in the snow," the pompoms on the shoes of the Greek soldiers, and Williamson's gruesome encounter with a grenade. Hemingway doesn't flinch from describing the physical realities and "destruction" of death. The body and what happens to it becomes a metaphor for doubts and emotional destruction. In the memory sequences and in the three times Harry feels death visit his cot, Hemingway also emphasizes how close death is to ordinary life.

Peaceful memories, like gambling in a cabin, and simple sensory flashbacks to good times are juxtaposed with memories of bombing, violence, and death—sometimes in the same paragraph or sentence. Harry offers no judgment or evident emotion in these changes of tone. He takes the bad with the good. However, the first recollection ends on a picturesque scene of warmth and comfort, appealing to all five senses. Harry's physical decline is heightened by memories of the beauty and joy of life and the experiences he'll miss.

Europe and Paris in the 1920s

Harry senses he has always been an outsider whose years spent with the rich as "a spy in their country" were only a fact-finding mission, not a time of belonging. He adapts, however, which bothers him. The comfort of wealth transforms him into "that which he despise[s]." Harry's comment to Julian (the writer based on F. Scott Fitzgerald, a 1920s author fascinated by the Gilded Age rich), indicates he has devalued the wealthy from a "glamorous race" to normal people. Harry's travels and outsider status have made him a keen anthropological and social observer. He's paid attention to people from other cultures and backgrounds and recognizes sources of personal, sexual, political, and economic conflict.

Hemingway evokes the lost generation's postwar despair through Harry's broad descriptions of cities and groups. The recollection of his time in Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey, is an experience of physical violence and sexual tension. The idea of destruction recurs as Harry's unrequited love continues to destroy him, and longing for his first wife makes him feel "hollow sick inside." Hemingway further evinces the sense of destruction through Harry's wartime observations: the lust that drove him to fight with a British gunner subaltern in the Paris streets, the sorrow of a British observer who "cried like a child" seeing troops slain in battle, and the sad corpses of Greek soldiers in their "white ballet skirts and upturned shoes with pompoms."

Harry's PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is only mentioned briefly, cryptically, and indirectly. But details in the text show how feelings of failure and despair, possibly stemming from his experience in the war, have affected each aspect of his life. The passing reference to Dada poet Tristan Tzara, who created intentionally absurd poems and other literature, shows Harry's view of life as random and meaningless. Even his chosen medium, written communication, has failed him. The letter from his first love has an effect on his life but not the effect he wanted or intended. It merely destroys his hopes.

As a former soldier, Harry still has a strong sense of duty. He carries this idea of duty into his plans to write about the world; he needs to report his findings to others.

In the third memory sequence, his childhood recollections of nature, peace, and nurture (the poplars and blackberries, being called to meals) are touched by violence (the guns) and natural destruction (the fire). Varying points of view represent Harry's attempt to describe the details of his childhood to an outside observer—perhaps to write once again or to "telescope" his life into one paragraph as he envisions.

Here he contrasts the settings of city and country. The description of the Black Forest shows Hemingway's own love for fishing and spending time in the natural world. Nature's steadfastness after the war contrasts with the chaos of human interaction during it. The story is again interrupted by jarring violence when the hotel operator hangs himself. The "inflation" that caused the operator's financial crisis was the German hyperinflation of 1923, an economic disaster that destroyed the value of German money and led to widespread chaos. The operator's death comes right after the sentence "It was very pleasant and we were all great friends," showing how suddenly and unexpectedly life can change course.

While Harry's remembrances of the rich show contempt, his memories of the poor evoke a guarded affection. He aligns himself with the poor and offers a loving portrayal of Paris despite—or because of—the "dirty sweat and poverty and drunkenness" he witnesses. He recalls moments of happiness in Paris, like the bicycle racer's victory and the glasses of wine he and his neighbor shared. With a writer's ear for dialogue and conflict, he affectionately describes the murmuring of the working-class people outside his apartment. Paris may have been a place where, in the middle of diverse and displaced city residents, he finally belonged. Now that Harry himself is rich on Helen's money, he again feels like he belongs nowhere.

Wartime concerns continue to invade peaceful life. For example, Harry describes the particular struggle of the descendants of the Communards. The original Communards were working-class members of the Paris Commune in 1871. The Versailles troops were the government and military forces that occupied Paris in the 1870s, murdering Communards and inciting the working class to violence. "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" depicts the tension in Europe between occupying forces and occupied people, and Harry senses he belongs nowhere.

Death and Nature

Nature imagery is associated with both death and rebirth. Vultures and hyenas as well as animals symbolizing death circle the campsite. Harry and Helen are on safari to shoot animals, but Harry's death is caused by nature's indifference (and his own inaction).

Certain images, like snow and mountain peaks, recur as reminders of nature's capacity for majesty. The frozen leopard, a symbol of the immortality for which Harry yearns, is found near Mt. Kilimanjaro's majestic summit. In the fourth memory sequence, Harry recalls "the peak in the evening light" behind the mountains. The "silvered grey" and "heavy green" colors of the ranch are rich and almost seductive, and nature has innocent prey with cattle "shy as deer."

The story of the chore boy is a human tragedy Harry allowed to happen. His mind is traveling back over his regrets. What was his moral responsibility in the situation? He still isn't sure. Referring to himself as "you" in the story, he tries to describe himself with the distance of an author. The vulnerable young man, following what he believed were Harry's instructions, is devastated when Harry turns him in to the sheriff. Is it betrayal or duty on Harry's part? Like Helen, the young man may have given Harry credit for more compassion than he actually possessed.

Temperature, especially the freezing cold associated with snow, is another indication of nature's harshness. The old man in the fourth memory sequence lies "frozen in the corral." The indifference of animals comes into play as the dogs eat the old man's body. Death appears animalistic, perhaps taking the shape of a bird or a hyena. Its breath stinks, and it sits heavily on Harry's chest. It is a presence to which he has to submit.

When Harry thinks about Paris, death comes to him in the urban image of policemen riding bicycles through the streets. Death can appear anywhere in any guise. Its unexpectedness and its ability to blend in with surroundings is what makes death disturbing to Harry. "A scythe and a skull" would at least be a mystical experience, but death is just an extension of life, and it bores him in its banality.

The fifth memory sequence contrasts the painlessness, restlessness, and relative peace of Harry's death with the violence and excruciating pain of Williamson's grenade injury. When Harry proclaims "The marvelous thing is that it's painless," to Helen, he's clinging to the idea of earthly sensations like pain disappearing upon death. But Williamson succumbing to a "stick bomb," or hand grenade, showed him death isn't painless for everyone. In another twist of situational irony, the most graphic war scene in the story brings a moment of humanity. Harry remembers an act of compassion—giving Williamson his own morphine tablets. Even though the gesture wasn't immediately effective, it was merciful. This act—putting Williamson's needs above his own—offers Harry a sort of redemption, as does his decision not to tell Helen he never loved her.

Harry's memories have been full of literal peaks and valleys, with many references to skiing downhill or traveling uphill. In the end he's lost everything but curiosity, and he feels incomplete despite Helen's faith in him. Violence and death have been his life's only constants, but he hasn't always lived up to his own moral code.

When Compton—Harry's friend and pilot—arrives, it seems he's there to rescue him, or so Harry (and readers) think at first. The prospect of a flight to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro appears to offer an extension of life or Harry's mystical transition into the afterlife. Can he be redeemed? Is the flight to the "House of God" an acknowledgment that his life was meaningful and worthwhile?

But the flight with Compton is the journey to death itself. True to the lost generation's philosophy, there is no salvation. Harry must leave his earthly memories behind, with no chance to alter what he's done. He must accept what cannot be denied.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Harry's infected scratch develops gangrene.

Rising Action

2 Harry and Helen fight back at camp.

3 Helen goes to hunt a gazelle.

4 Harry and Helen reconcile.


5 Harry ascends Mt. Kilimanjaro in his dream.

Falling Action

6 Harry dies in their tent.


7 Helen discovers Harry's dead body.

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