THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO
Returning from a Kenyan safari in 1932, Ernest Hemingway quickly devised a literary trophy to add to his stash of buffalo hides and rhino horns. To this day, Green Hills of Africa seems an almost perverse paean to the thrills of bloodshed, in which the author cuts one notch after another in his gun barrel and declares, “I did not mind killing anything.” Four years later, however, Hemingway came up with a more accomplished spin on his African experiences–a pair of them, in fact, which he collected with eight other tales in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The title story is a meditation on corruption and mortality, two subjects that were already beginning to preoccupy the 37-year-old author. As the protagonist perishes of gangrene out in the bush, he recognizes his own failure of nerve as a writer:
Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them, and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting. Well he would never know, now.
In the story, at least, the hero gets some points for stoic acceptance, as well as an epiphanic vision of Kilimanjaro’s summit, “wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun.” (The movie version is another matter: Gregory Peck makes it back to the hospital, loses a leg, and is a better person for it.) But Hemingway’s other great white hunter, in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” is granted a less dignified exit. This time the issue is cowardice, another of Papa’s bugaboos: poor Francis is too wimpy to face down a wounded lion, let alone satisfy his treacherous wife in bed. Yet he does manage a last-minute triumph before dying–an absolute assertion of courage–which makes the title a hair less ironic than it initially seems. No wonder these are two of the highest-caliber (so to speak) tales in the Hemingway canon. –Bob Brandeis