Death is inevitable and all of us will have to face it some day
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Death is inevitable and all of us will have to face it some day. Some sooner than others. Unfortunately, this is the fate for the character Harry from Ernest Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro who has an ominous and lurking sense of death and has to eventually accept that it will happen. This is seen as he gets infected with gangrene, starts to be true to himself, and finally finds his “inner leopard”.
Harry and his wife, Helen, are on a safari trip through Africa because Harry wanted to get out in the world to hopefully spark his creativity once again within his writing. This took a turn for the first when he goes through a seemingly innocent incident. Harry had pricked his leg on a thorn while out in the safari with his wife taking pictures of the elephants and other wildlife that live among the flat lands in Africa. Unfortunately he gets infected with gangrene. Harry stated that, “the marvellous thing about it is that it’s painless. That's how you know when it starts." (1). What Harry is describing in this quote is that the gangrene he contracted has now started to infect the tissue in his leg. This is causing him to not feel any pain in his leg. Hence why he says “That’s how you know when it starts.” (1). Since Harry didn’t feel any pain, he neglected to put the iodine on his leg that is required to slow and stop the infection. This quote is explaining that Harry waited too long to get help that now his gangrene is almost certainly terminal. His wife had built a new life for him and herself and since Harry is now slowly dying, that new life is coming to an end. “And now this life that she had built again was coming to a term because he had not used iodine two weeks ago when a thorn had scratched his knee...” (1).
While Harry is reminiscing on a cot about his poor decision to not be concerned with his wound, he has time to think about his life and what he’s leaving behind as his legacy. “The cot the man lay on was in the wide shade of a mimosa tree and as he looked out past the shade onto the glare of the plain there were three of the big birds squatted obscenely, while in the sky a dozen more sailed, making quick-moving shadows as they passed.” (1). This is the first great example of imagery of the theme of death within this short story. Harry is faced with the fact that, because he didn’t put the iodine on his wound when he should have, he is slowly dying and can no longer control it. The big birds, which one can assume are birds of prey, are a metaphor for the thought of, and the inevitability of, death creeping unto Harry. Harry also asks, "now is it sight or is it scent that brings them like that?" (1). In this excerpt Harry is talking about these big birds that are watching him and hovering overhead because of the scent of his rotting flesh and the sort of dead animal look his rotting leg gives off to them. Harry’s realization enables him to really think about what he’s been doing with his life. Harry realizes he needed to be truer to himself and others.
Harry lied to many people including his wife, and past wives, about many things. Harry talks not through his own light, but through another “person’s” light. He doesn’t tell his own stories, he tells someone else’s because he is so used to writing someone else’s life in novel’s that he uses that tactic and piggybacks on that when he doesn’t know what to say or do in real life. “Not so much that he lied as that there was no truth to tell. He had had his life and it was over and then he went on living it again with different people and more money, with the best of the same places, and some new ones.” (1). He lied to his wife Helen about loving her, but because he didn’t tell her that when he first felt it, he felt he had to continue with the facade he put on. Soon after he relays this detail through his mind over and over he finally tells her and he begins to start disclose many of the truths to the lies he has told. Harry’s wife Helen asks why he is being so mean to her now that he is sick. Harry explains to her that the reason he is angry is because he doesn’t like to leave things behind. These seem to be Harry’s true colors and honest opinions finally coming out. "’I don't like to leave anything,’ the man said. ‘I don’t like to leave things behind.’"(1). Harry could be implying that he needs to tell the truths and not “leave them behind” or he could be using this as a motivator to try and apologize to others for the wrongs he had done to them. He is beginning to be honest about everything he has lied about in the past. This is the beginning of Harry accepting his death to come and without question him finding his “inner leopard”.
The leopard that is described in the beginning of this short story has a very strong importance towards Harry’s story. The Leopard had scaled Mount Kilimanjaro and nobody knows why because the conditions are nothing like its natural habitat, but one can infer from its will to endure these conditions, that it was seeking something greater than we understand. “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.” (Pollklas 1). The Leopard knew there was something it needed at the top of that mountain, but it wasn’t sure what that certain ‘thing’ was. It pushed as hard as it could through the tough weather conditions and freezing temperatures until it could no longer. The altitude at which the leopard had climbed to is perfect for preserving its body. The leopard may have known it was dying and instead of decaying, it wanted to become “immortal” by having its body be preserved in the mountain.
Harry is laying on his cot as his body slowly deteriorates and slowly decays minute by minute. He has realized that he will not be able to save himself at this point no matter what he tries to do and can only dream of being well once again. Harry had fallen asleep while lying on his cot and had a dream. The quote used earlier about the leopard on Mount Kilimanjaro, “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.” (Pollklas 1) can be applied to Harry. As he slept he had dreamt of a flight of “immortality” at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. This is because, like the leopard, he was searching for something more and he didn’t want to die, he wanted to live on. Harry knows there is no going back and he accepts that, no matter how bad he wants it to not be true.
The theme of death is displayed many times throughout the short story The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway. Harry has been infected with gangrene and has to live with the fact that he doesn’t have much longer to live. The birds circling his tent are causing him to come to terms. He doesn’t want to admit this at first and looks for ways to fix it. When he realizes that he has waited too long and exhausted all his options, he learns to accept that it is his time to go. For many people, death is a scary thing and want nothing to do with it. In the end, they need to understand that death is unfortunately inevitable and they must learn to accept it and embrace it.