Death in Ernest Hemingway’s short story 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro'

Seminar Paper, 2007

7 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Death is a major theme in Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and it appears in several different forms, directly and indirectly. The most obvious reference to death is the injury of the protagonist Harry and the way he realizes that he has little time left to live. In addition to several other appearances of the theme of death, such as the buzzards, the hunting of an animal and the breaking down of the truck, there is the symbolic death of Harry’s writing career that the protagonist begins to realize during his final hours. In this research paper, I am going to show the various aspects of the theme of death in the short story.

Even before the short story begins, in the short prologue, Hemingway briefly tells the story of a leopard’s carcass that is said to lie at a high altitude on the slope of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is up to the reader to decide how to relate this tale to the rest of the short story, but it is obvious at this point that death will play an important role in the story.

The main storyline develops around the deadly infection of Harry’s leg after suffering from a thorn scratch. He talks about death in the very first sentence of the short story, saying “The marvelous thing is that it’s painless, […] That’s how you know when it starts”[1]. As the story develops, Harry frequently mentions his wish to die or thee way he feels that death is very close now: “You can shoot me. You’re a good shot now”[2] and “I don’t want to move, […] There is no sense in moving now except to make it easier for you”[3] and “Can’t you let a man die as comfortably as he can without calling him names?”[4] and “Don’t be silly. I’m dying now”[5]. It sounds as if Harry is giving up, not necessarily because he is a coward, even though his wife calls him that, but more because he feels that it is more comfortable for him at this point to lay down and die instead of waiting for a truck or airplane that will probably never arrive: “I don’t give a damn about the truck”[6]. It is questionable whether the often mentioned rescue is actually scheduled or expected to arrive or if it is more of a wish of Harry (and Helen), symbolizing a salvation that will not come because of what Harry has done during his life.

Harry believes that the proof for his approaching death is the group of buzzards that surrounds the camp, one of the various symbols of death that appear in the story. His wife, in the meantime, remains optimistic and says that there are buzzards around every camp, adding “You can’t die if you don’t give up”[7]. The same quarrel of his giving up versus his wife’s optimism continues in their argument about drinking, with him finding an increasing pleasure in annoying his wife by ordering drinks from his servant while she tries to reason with him that it is not good for him: “It’s supposed to be bad for you. It said in Black’s to avoid all alcohol. You shouldn’t drink. […] That’s what I mean by giving up. It says it’s bad for you. I know it’s bad for you”[8]. Harry’s indifferent attitude towards death is further illustrated: “For this, that now was coming, he had very little curiosity. For years it had obsessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself. It was strange how easy being tired enough made it”[9].

During the rest of the story, Harry has several moments when he feels the proximity of death. It first appears about halfway through the story after the sun has gone down. “It came with a rush; not as a rush of water nor of wind; but of a sudden evil-smelling emptiness and the odd thing was that the hyena slipped lightly along the edge of it”[10]. As a consequence, shortly afterwards, when Helen offers him a bowl of broth to get his strength up, he answers “I’m going to die tonight. I don’t need my strength up”[11]. Then, only moments later, Harry feels that he has the second direct contact with death. “He felt death come again. This time there was no rush. It was a puff, as of a wind that makes a candle flicker and the flame go tall”[12]. Soon afterwards, he builds a small and temporary distance from death. “He was tired. Too tired. He was going to sleep a little while. He lay still and death was not there. It must have gone around another street.”[13] His attitude towards death is as indifferent as it was before: “All right. Now he wouldn’t care about death. One thing he had always dreaded was the pain. He could stand pain as well as any man, until it went on too long, and wore him out”[14]. From here on, Harry rapidly approaches his end.

“He had just felt death come by again. […] It had moved up on him now, but it had no shape any more. It simply occupied space. […] It did not go away but moved a little closer. […] And then, while they lifted the cot, suddenly it was all right and the weight went from his chest”[15].


[1] Hemingway, p. 39

[2] Hemingway, p. 39

[3] Hemingway, p. 40

[4] Hemingway, p. 40

[5] Hemingway, p. 40

[6] Hemingway, p. 40

[7] Hemingway, p. 40

[8] Hemingway, p. 40

[9] Hemingway, p. 41

[10] Hemingway, p. 47

[11] Hemingway, p. 49

[12] Hemingway, p. 50

[13] Hemingway, p. 52

[14] Hemingway, p. 53

[15] Hemingway, p. 54

Excerpt out of 7 pages


Death in Ernest Hemingway’s short story 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro'
University of Freiburg
20th Century American Short Story
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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379 KB
Death, Ernest, Hemingway’s, Snows, Kilimanjaro, Century, American, Short, Story
Quote paper
Sören Kupke (Author), 2007, Death in Ernest Hemingway’s short story 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro', Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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