Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is a story about a man and his dying, his relationship to his wife, and his recollections of his life. It is also, more importantly, a story about writing. Through the story of Harry, a dying, decaying writer, Hemingway expresses his own feelings about writing, as an art, as a means of financial support, and as an inescapable urge. Much criticism has been written about the failures of Harry in “Snows” (although most of it, apparently, is not available in Library West) and most of this is wildly far from understanding the most important ideas Hemingway presents. I will attempt to explain why what has been written is wrong and why what has not been written is fundamental to the story.
Some would compare Harry’s failure to write what he wants to write to his failure to achieve the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. What they have overlooked, intentionally or not, is that Harry and his wife are not actually trying to climb the mountain. They have no lofty goals to reach the highest point in Africa, but are in their position while hunting game. They have gone to Africa on a safari and it is only a happenstance that they are situated at the base of the mountain when the story occurs. Obviously the mountain has significance in the story, but to view it as a symbol of another one of Harry’s failures is to place more responsibility on it than Hemingway intended.
One could reason that when Harry comes to realize the summit in his death-dream, Hemingway is absolving him of his failures and granting salvation in the form of a successful climb.
“… There, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro.”(Hemingway, 1864)
Harry has failed to achieve that for which he was striving in life, but in and through death he is able to gain some fulfillment.
Harry dreams that this is where he is headed, but Hemingway never has him actually arrive there. Instead the reader leaves Harry in an indeterminate state and returns to the world of the living, unnamed wife.
Some believe that Harry never writes the things about which he most wants, and is therefore a failure. Harry is the author who cannot bring himself to write about his past experiences, who cannot capture his perceptions in language, who cannot.