Hemingway’s written that when Harry comes to realize

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Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” is a story about a man and his
dying, his relationship to his wife, and his recollections of a troubling
existence. It is also, more importantly, a story about writing. Through the
story of Harry, a deceptive, dying, decaying writer, Hemingway expresses his own
feelings about writing, as an art, as a means of financial support, and as an
inescapable urge. Much criticism has been written about the failures of Harry in
“Snows” (although most of it, apparently, is not available in Library
West) and most of this is wildly far from understanding the most important ideas
Hemingway presents. I will attempt to explain why what has been written is wrong
and why what has not been written is fundamental to the story. Several critics
have tried to analogize Harry’s failure to write what he wants to write to his
failure to achieve the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro. What they have overlooked,
intentionally or not, is that Harry and his wife are not actually trying to
climb the mountain. They have no lofty goals to reach the highest point in
Africa, but are in their position while hunting game. They have gone to Africa
on a safari and it is only a happenstance that they are situated at the base of
the mountain when the story occurs. Obviously the mountain has significance in
the story, but to view it as a symbol of another one of Harry’s failures is to
place more responsibility on it than Hemingway intended. It has also been
written that when Harry comes to realize the summit in his death-dream,
Hemingway is absolving him of his failures and granting salvation on the
protagonist in the form of a successful climb. Harry has failed to achieve that
for which he was striving in life, but in and through death he is able to gain
fulfillment. Unfortunately again critics are (intentionally?) ignoring the fact
that Harry and Compton do not ever reach the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Harry
dreams that this is where he is headed, but Hemingway never has him actually
arrive there. Instead the reader leaves Harry in an indeterminate state and
returns to the world of the living, albeit sleeping, unnamed wife. Finally, some
critics revel in the pretense that Harry never writes the things about which he
most wants, and is therefore a failure. Harry is the author who cannot bring
himself to write about his past experiences, who cannot capture his sensory
perceptions in language, who cannot summon the ability to do what has made him
who he is. The critic Macdonald goes to great pains to explain that the
italicized portions of the story are the ones about which Harry has always
desired, but never been able, to write. Macdonald points out that the italicized
text is comprised of the experiences which would have made good fiction, had
they been written. Sadly, Macdonald would have us believe, Harry is never given
the opportunity to write these stories because he has grown soft, he has lost
the ability to create, he has failed as a writer. Macdonald says that Hemingway
portrays Harry as a man who is a “failed artist” but this is not true.

Hemingway portrays Harry as an artist who is struggling with his art, an art
that Hemingway knows intimately. It is, in fact, a struggling which Hemingway
utilizes wonderfully to show just how crippling the loss of one’s muse is to a
writer. He is also able to communicate just how deceptive that muse can be, and
how once that muse infects a writer, he is no longer in control over his craft.

Through “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” Hemingway manages to convey the
most universal of truths: Text is alive. Once something has been written, all
aspects of intentionality are lost. Every word, every phrase carries with it so
much convoluted and inexplicable baggage into any reader’s mind that to try and
assume what a writer is trying to write is a supreme exercise in futility. The
best that can be done is to try and untangle what something means without trying
to project that meaning onto anyone else’s understanding of it. After all the
critics and professors and students and bathtub readers have gone over what
you’ve written with their own eyes, all that is left is simply what you have
placed on the page. Like Frankenstein’s monster, the text, once it leaves the
author’s pen (pencil, word-processor, computer, dictaphone…), has a life
completely unto itself. It can be read but it cannot be altered. It can be
interpreted, but it cannot be understood. The only reason to view Harry as a
failure is because he never writes what he wants to write. The stories, the text
he most desires to write, he fears, will die with him. But what Harry is never
allowed to write, the pieces of “Snows” in italics, is in fact
written. How can Harry be viewed as a failure when what he most desires to write
is, in the end, readable?

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