The Snows of Kilimanjaro

This study guide will help you analyze the short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1936) by Ernest Hemingway. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was an American writer. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954 for his body of work. The short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” was first published in August 1936 in Esquire magazine, and then republished in three other short story collections.


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Snow is a symbol of death. Harry remembers the snow on the mountains in Bulgaria, and connects it to death: “it was snow they tramped along in until they died that winter” (p. 42, ll. 10-11). Harry’s sudden and unexpected fate can also be connected to the unexpected timing of the snow in his memory. The Secretary says it is not snow, and “it’s too early for snow” (p. 42, l. 7), and the same thing can be said about Harry’s death, which occurs unexpectedly, and too early, making him unable to finish his works. The image of snow reappears in Harry’s dream, where he is taken to the top of Kilimanjaro, which is “unbelievably white in the sun” (p. 56, ll. 8-9). This symbolizes Harry’s death. 

The hyena is another symbol of the approaching death. Harry sees it around their camp every night for two weeks (p. 47, ll. 24-25). Its appearance reminds Harry of his death: “It came with a rush (…) a sudden evil-smelling emptiness and the odd thing was that the hyena slipped lightly along the edge of it” (p. 47, ll. 34-36). The hyena seems to accompany Harry’s thoughts of death. At the end, when Harry does die, Helen is awakened by a scream of a hyena which was “strange, human, almost crying” (p. 56, l. 12). This reinforces the idea of the hyena being a symbol of Harry’s mortality and his shifting awareness of his own death.

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The Snows of Kilimanjaro

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