The Snows of Kilimanjaro, a short story by Ernest Hemingway, is a brilliant study of a man's final hours precluding death. The story centers around Harry and his wife, waiting for a plane to come and take him to a doctor or hospital. Thus begins a stream of passages that takes the reader along with Harry while he drifts in and out of consciousness, moving from one life to the next. The obvious theme is death and dying, but the home theme is Harry's return to his past, and his journey to the present.
Hemingway uses animal imagery in the story to reflect the dying theme, and to show two distinct sides of Harry, and his passing from life to death . The story opens with Harry discussing his dying leg and the smell that the infection or gangrene creates. He reflects on the three big birds (vultures) waiting in the horizon "Look at them," he said. "now is it sight or is it scent that brings them like that?" His use of adjectives to describe the birds and their waiting for him to die projects a feeling of death, and sets the tone for the story, using words such as "obscene" and "shadow" and "sail" to correlate the emergence of the birds with the ascent of death. "...as he looked out past the shade onto the glare of the plane there were three of the big birds squatted obscenely, while in the sky a dozen more sailed, making quick moving shadows as they passed."
His introduction of various animals that are typically associated with death and dying into the story at intervals replicate the passing phases of the death process. "They've been there since the looked out past the shade onto the glare of the plane there were three of the big birds squatted obs...
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The Snows of Kilimanjaro is a powerful story, beautifully written, chronicling one mans journey from life to death. It's a step by step process, with each step brilliantly depicted in a small passing of time. "It moved up closer to him still and now he could not speak to it, and when it saw he could not speak it came a little closer, and now he tried to send it away without speaking, but it moved in on him so its weight was all upon his chest, and while it crouched there he could not move, or speak.." At the end of the story the animal emerges again, this time serving as the call to Harry's death. "Just then the hyena stopped whimpering in the night and started to make a strange, human, almost crying sound. The woman heard it and stirred uneasily."
Hemingway, Ernest. "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." Baym, et al. 2: 1687-1704.
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