“Love never dies a natural death.” ?Anais Nin
Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” tells the story of Harry, a successful writer who spends his time hunting and adventuring in exotic locales.
On safari in Africa, Harry experiences a freak accident which leaves his leg grievously wounded.
With gangrene setting in, and with the camp’s truck broken down, Harry waits for a rescue plane he knows won’t arrive in time.
Lying in the shade of a tree, delirious, Harry accepts he’s dying. In the distance, he sees the snow-covered peak of Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa.
“Please tell me what I can do,” his wife says. “There must be something I can do.”
“You can take the leg off,” Harry tells her. “Or you can shoot me.”
At this moment, Harry is bitter and scornful that things have come to such an end.
In a series of hallucinations, Harry reviews his life and is appalled at what a waste of time it has been. At every turn, he sees opportunities squandered.
“Now he would never write the things 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.”
Images of places he’d visited spin by like an out-of-control slideshow. He’d seen much but didn’t write about any of it. Instead, he pushed it off to another time, and now there was no time left.
In lucid moments, Harry tells his wife, “I’ve been writing,” or says, “I want to write,” but he knows it’s too late for that.
Harry is left heartbroken over the loss of the man he thought he was. He faces the fact that he’s spent his life seeking pleasure and comfort, and now he has neither.
“Don’t you love me?” his wife asks.
“No,” Harry says. “I don’t think so. I never have.”
Later, he tells her he was talking crazy, to pay no attention, that of course he loves her. But it’s a lie.
He knows little or nothing about friendship, love, or caring. He feels he did love a woman once, years before, but it had all gone wrong. Now, he wishes he was with her.
“No, he thought, when everything you do, you do too long, and do too late, you can’t expect to find the people still there. The people are all gone.”
Harry is heartbroken by this, too, and is surrounded by loneliness.
Harry has wasted his talent by not using it and wasted his ability to love in the same way. He has passed on the chance to live life rather than run through it, and he knows he has only himself to blame.
Yes, he did it all to himself, and doesn’t that sound familiar? Whether in life or love, we are often our own worst enemy.
Things left unsaid, undone, not thought of ? they can all add up and have a way of coming back to haunt us.
Heartbreak comes when we lose forever someone or something that we hold close. What follows is sorrow, regret, and a deep feeling of being alone.
“You’ve never lost anything,” Harry’s wife tells him. “You’re the most complete man I’ve ever known.”
Harry knows better. He sees his life slipping away, and feels death coming closer and closer, until it’s sitting on his chest.
“Tell it to go away,” he says out loud.
Death delivers the final verdict. Death is, as Harry knows, where we get judged by our sins.
In a surrealistic sequence, Harry lies awake in the morning when he hears the plane coming to get him. Harry is loaded aboard and, as the plane takes off, he sees the campsite fall away and zebras running below.
As the plane climbs higher, it flies in and out of a rainstorm, and then Harry is confronted with a stunning sight.
“There, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going.”
This scene is said to symbolize the passage out of this life, a journey of the soul that leaves the broken hearts of this world behind.
When Hollywood made the Technicolor movie of this story, they gave it a happy ending. Harry’s leg wasn’t hurt so badly after all, and the plane arrives to carry him to safety. In the end, Harry realizes his love for his wife, and the couple embrace romantically as the film closes.
In Hemingway’s telling, Harry’s wife wakes to hear a hyena crying. She shines a flashlight and sees Harry’s lifeless body. She calls for help, then cries out Harry’s name.
“Outside the tent the hyena made the same strange noise that had awakened her. But she did not hear him for the beating of her heart.”
All lives end. All hearts are broken. There are no refunds.