In the American literature scene, not many authors have the name recognition and notoriety of Ernest Hemingway. His adventurous lifestyle, copious amounts of classic literature, and characteristic writing style gave him fame both in days when he was alive and now after he has long passed. Of his most well-known works is The Snows of Kilimanjaro. This short story centers on a man known only as Harry, who is slowly dying of an infection of gangrene in his leg. He is a writer who laments not writing enough, and the short story deals mostly with the psychology of him dying while lamenting and recalling various things in his life. This leaves room for copious amounts of interpretation, with many scholarly essays having been written about The Snows of Kilimanjaro interpreting themes, motifs, characters, etc. In this way, Hemingway’s classic short-story proves its depth and literary diversity, showcasing various interpretations that are useful for developing one’s own thesis of The Snows of Kilimanjaro.
Reading through several different interpretations leads to one main conclusion: most commentators and critics like to interpret the symbols of the story, but they all have different ideas of what the symbols are or what they mean. In an essay written in 1952, literary commentator Carlos Baker attributes nearly all symbols in the novel to death itself, with close relation to the hyena, the vultures, and the other horrible creatures.
“He is prepared to use, where they conform to the requirements of an imaginary situation, any of the more ancient symbols—whether the threes and nines of numerology, or the weight of the Cross in Christian legend. But the scythe and the skull, though ancient enough, simply do not fit the pattern of Harry's death and are therefore rejected in favor of the foul and obscene creatures which have now come to dominate Harry's imagination” (Baker).
Baker is suggesting that Harry does not attribute his oncoming death to classic subtle imagery such as the scythe and the skull, but rather the distasteful animals of the night that surround and torture him. He makes no argument for Harry’s heroism or any sound commentary on his will to keep on living. Rather he stays on the topic of death symbols, and how they conform to Harry’s locale and his ever-grim situation.
Another critic named Marion Montgomery, in an essay written in 1961, chose to focus more specifically on two of the main symbols of the hyena and the leopard, rather than the overarching theme of death at large in the story. The leopard carcass receives little attention in the story itself, but as with many of Hemingway’s small symbols it receives a good amount of literary criticism. At first, Montgomery seems skeptical of even analyzing such a small portion of the story. “This is the only direct reference to the leopard, and therein, perhaps, lies a weakness of the story, a point to be considered later. What is important to note at this point is that a contrast seems to...