Personal response #5 (Short story)

The Snows of Kilimanjaro: Recommended

Author: Ernest Hemingway

It was first published in Esquire magazine in 1936

“You know the only thing I’ve ever lost is curiosity”

It is not uncommon for many people in this day and age to lose their curiosity in living. They start to question the ‘what ifs?’ They want to know if they truly got the most out of their lives, and whether their purpose was fulfilled. But as we grow older, this curiosity for what life can bring starts to turn into an unhealthy obsession where we question if we utilised all of the opportunities life has brought. This short story looks into the life of a character called Harry, who started an African safari in an attempt to get rid of his lazy life of luxury and procrastination. He needed to be reminded what it felt like to work for something, to struggle with something, to feel like he was living, instead of the constant, declining cycle of feeling his artistic talents drain as he lived off his wife’s wealth. An unfortunate accident meant that a dying Harry and his wife were stranded in a small African village, while waiting for an emergency aeroplane to be sent from Nairobi. During his last few hours, we see Harry begin to reminisce over his life, and it looks into the regrettable decisions he had made. This short story greatly affected the way I viewed the world, because the author used many connections between the characters and other non-human symbols to help portray ideas and themes throughout the text. His use of language features also assisted this. The decisions made by the characters all bring important life lessons that readers in year twelve can learn from, which is why I would recommend this short story to other people my age.

As we watch Harry begin the dreary, depressing decent to death, we see him begin to re-evaluate his life. He begins to realise he will never “write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well.” He begins to understand that it’s now too late to do anything about this wasted talent, and he will never get the opportunity to record the many wondrous events of his life, and see “if he could have written them.” His agonizingly slow departure to death makes him realize how often and how much he squandered his life, while avoiding writing down all the stories he now desperately wishes to. Here, the author adeptly contrasts two prominent themes in the text: this man’s engagement with death, and his failings to pursue his artistic dreams. This contrast is relatable to today’s society because many people, just like Harry, tell themselves that they will wait to complete these artistic endeavours because they don’t have the time, or they can’t think of a way to compile their ideas together. All they’re really doing, however, is wasting their time procrastinating all of the things they really want to be doing. It is common in today’s society to procrastinate activities we don’t want to be doing, to put off tasks because we feel they’re too difficult to be completed today, or we just simply can’t be bothered. This hesitation to simply do the things we don’t want to do starts become a habit, starts to become part of your routine. This habit will start to fester into everything you’re doing and suddenly you begin to procrastinate the things you actually want to be doing, because that’s how you deal with all of the other tasks you’re supposed to be dealing with. This can be a very dangerous and regrettable trait, as Harry discovers, and something which we shouldn’t allow to happen. This part of the story showed me how putting things off now can have much larger effects on us later in life. It taught me that the consequences of putting things off can include feeling huge amounts of regret and remorse for the amount of time you wished you’d spent doing the things you love. This is an important story for young readers to read because it teaches us that sometimes it’s better to just get on with the things that need doing, because the only thing you’re really procrastinating is your life. The reason Harry procrastinated writing all of the stories and experiences he’d had, was because he knew that writing wouldn’t earn him a wealthy living. Instead of writing, he married rich women and survived off their incomes, and began to veer onto the trail of wealth, rather than that of passion. “It was strange, too, wasn’t it, that when he fell in love with another woman, that woman should always have more money than the last one? But when he no longer was in love, when he was only lying, as to this woman, now, who had the most money of all, who had all the money there was, who had had a husband and children, who had taken lovers and been dissatisfied with them, and who loved him dearly as a writer, as a man, as a companion and as a proud possession; it was strange that when he did not love her at all and was lying, that he should be able to give her more for her money than when he had really loved.” This mistake of choosing money over your passions and what you love is common in today’s society, for people to do jobs for the money, rather than because they actually enjoy what they’re doing. So many people are wasting their lives trying to earn more money than everyone else, to buy material goods that don’t really make them much happier. This idea that money buys happiness is a fake ideal that is starting to trick the younger generations into pursuing careers they hate, because they want to reap the rewards. I was easily able to relate this part of the story to my own life, because it reminded me that I need to look into careers that I will actually enjoy, rather than ones that will earn me the most money. This relation will also help many others my age and in my position, and shows why it is an important story for young people in year twelve to read. It teaches us that life isn’t always about being rich rather than poor, and that it’s better to pursue a career you love than one you hate, no matter what the price tag is.

Symbolism is evident throughout the text, and is used by the author to link many ideas that wouldn’t previously be connected. For example, in the beginning of the story, the author writes a note about Mt. Kilimanjaro, where it says “Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai “Ngaje Ngai,” the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.” This mountain is represented in the story as a place of warmth and happiness, despite its height and freezing temperatures. This symbol was often linked to the symbol of the African plains, which stretch for miles below the towering mountain, and is connected to negative connotations of death and darkness through the text. Throughout history, civilisations have chosen the tallest mountain in their area to represent where God, or his immortality lives. It has been suggested that the leopard mentioned was searching for a form of immortality while it was stalking the treacherous peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and was frozen while on its journey. The idea of immortality is common in today’s society, as few people want to die. People look for it in all kinds of ways, but they all have the common denominator of trying to live forever. People are comforted by the idea that they don’t have to die, and is why there are so many legends surrounding immortality. In the text, the author manages to project these ideas to the audience in a systematic way, where he explains that when we get close to dying, all we want to do is live forever, to do all the things we wish we had all those years ago. This part of the text helped me understand why people are often very religious when they know they’re going to die, because they’re seeking help from their God to allow them to keep on living. It allowed me to understand the perspective of a dying person, and why they suddenly began religious practices. This was a perspective I hadn’t previously considered.  However, the mountain doesn’t always symbolise religion and immortality. In the story, Harry saw it as a symbol of an idealistic life that was pure and true. When he looks at the mountain, he is reminded that sometimes life is good, and can remember all of the good experiences he has been privileged to partake in. That is why when he finally dies; there is a kind of tragic irony. The leopard mentioned previously, died in search of a happier life, in search of immortal ideals, on a mountain that was clean, simple, and had the views of a God. In contrast, Harry was killed by his own rotting flesh, surrounded by the smell of death, in the presence of the plains. The author allows the reader to interpret that Harry died the way he lived, by wasting his life as his body wasted away, while drowning in nostalgia for all the things he never did. This part of the story helped me understand that even though we can do many good things in our lives, we don’t always die heroically. On the contrary, we can do bad things for most of our lives and die in search of good.  This is an important lesson for young readers in year twelve to learn, because it represents the idea that things aren’t always as they seem. At the end of the story, the author has written the ending in a way to make the author assume that Harry’s soul went to the summit of the mountain, as God’s way of saying thank you for all the sacrifices he made to ease the suffering of the characters that surrounded him. The leopard was seen stalking the plains, taking Harry’s life and represented that although he searched for positive ideals, he wasn’t given the same ending as Harry. The afterlife experiences shown in the story brought a stark contrast to the way the characters died. This part of the story made me feel that the leopard was given an unfair ending, and presented me with the idea that although everyone starts out in life the same way, we don’t all have to go out the same way. By this I mean that when someone or something dies, it doesn’t necessarily have to go to the same place. As Harry’s soul moved to the mountain, the leopard was reincarnated. Or maybe Harry was reincarnated into the leopard, and the leopard’s soul rested on the mountain. Either way, it showed me that there might not be only one way out of life, which is a big perception to make over such a short story. This links to today’s society because many people are terrified of dying because they feel they haven’t deserved happy ending, but it teaches us that sometimes kindness, even in the smallest of forms, allows us be happy anyway. This can often be a very positive way of looking at death, which can be a good thing for readers to keep in mind.

An underlying development in the text was the relationship between Harry and his wife, Helen. Harry explains that he never really loved her, but simply stuck with her because she was able to provide the income and outrageous lifestyle he so desperately desired. He felt guilty for using her like this, but also felt that “if he lived by a lie he should try to die by it.” He felt he owed it to her to leave her as he’d met her, by lying about how he felt to try in an attempt to minimise the pain it would cause her to know the truth. This relationship was portrayed as though she had made him happy throughout their relationship, but he’d never quite felt like he loved her. The author managed to portray these feelings in a way that it was easy to understand Harry’s perspective on this issue. While reading this part of the story, I felt that it was unfair of Harry to use Helen for her money, but I also felt that even though he didn’t love her, she still loved him, and he still made her feel much, much happier. It was because of this that I found I wasn’t as angry with Harry over his choices, because in the end, they were both happy with the outcome. This taught me that even though we can make wrong choices in life; these wrong choices can still make us happy, even if it isn’t in the way that was initially intended. The lesson I learnt from this would also be important for other people my age to learn, because many young teenagers often make many mistakes, no matter what areas of their lives it’s in. This teaches us that even if we make mistakes, it’s not the end of the world, and it can often make us just as happy and content with our lives even if it isn’t how we’d originally planned it to be. This part of the story relates well to society, because it isn’t uncommon for people to go into relationships with people they don’t care about for financial reward. This shows us that lying about our feelings isn’t always the best thing to do, because you’ll likely regret your decision. However, as the story progresses and Harry begins to die, he gets in a few arguments with Helen, and blames her for many of the bad things that have happened in his life. He tells her he doesn’t love her, but quickly retracts the statement telling her that he wasn’t feeling quite right and to not take what he says to heart. He explains in the story that he wants to destroy what he has so he can die with nothing: “I don’t like to leave anything,” the man said. “I don’t like to leave things behind.” We can relate this to society because people always change their minds. He decided he couldn’t die without telling her the truth about his feelings, but once he saw how it affected her, he changed his mind and decided it was better she was happy with a lie, than upset and angry at the truth. It also relates to today’s society because it’s common for people to not want to leave things unsaid. People don’t like the idea that they can die without telling people the truth about everything, because now that they’re dying, the repercussions of telling the truth will have little effect on them. Sometimes, however, it is better to leave things unsaid, and let people live on happily with a lie than to let them live sadly with the truth. This lesson is important for people my age to learn because it shows us that the best thing to do is to just tell the truth from the beginning. But it also teaches us that if we do lie, sometimes it’s better to let that person stay happy, rather than make them feel awful, especially if neither option will have much of an effect on you.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this short story. In some parts I found it hard to understand the wording because it was written a very long time ago, but you can still understand what the author is trying to portray. The lessons, ideals, symbols, and underlying themes that are written throughout the text really show the authors capabilities, and will help readers of any age understand complicated, modern day issues, in a simple and understandable manner. It was because of this that I would recommend this short story to a year twelve book club.


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