Hemmingway Short Stories ERNEST HEMINGWAY (1899-1961) “You really ought to read more books – you know, those things that look like blocks but come apart on one side.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1927 This is a paper about Ernest Hemingway’s short stories The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1938?), Hills like White Elephants (1927), Cat in the Rain (1923?), The Killers (1927) and A Clean Well-Lighted Place (1933). However, to understand Hemingway and his short stories I find it necessary to take a brief look at his life and background first. It is not easy to sum up Ernest Hemingway’s adventurous life in a few paragraphs, but I’ve tried to focus on the most important things before I started on the analysis of the five short stories. Ernest Miller Hemingway was born in oak Park, Illinois, July 21st 1899, and committed suicide July 2nd, 1961.
In his lifetime Hemingway managed to write some of the best known novels of our century, including books such as The Sun Also Rises, (1926) A Farewell to Arms (1929), Death in the Afternoon (1932) and For Whom the Bells Toll (1940). Hemingway’s first published work was Three Stories and Ten Poems (1923) and then In Our Time (1924), before his fame grew with the publication of The Sun Also Rises in 1926. By that time Hemingway was married and had a child, and he was working as a news correspondent in Paris. At the age of 18 Ernest Hemingway signed up for the army to fight in World War I, but because of his poor vision he was not accepted in the fighting forces. After a short span as a reporter in Kansas City, he joined the Red Cross as an ambulance driver.
Three weeks after his arrival at the front, Hemingway was wounded and spent nearly six months in convalescing before he returned home to USA and a hero’s welcome. Hemingway’s experiences in Italy, his wounding and recovery, later inspired his great novel A Farewell To Arms, and also explains some of the dark, pessimistic spirit one can trace trough much of his later work. After the return from Europe, Hemingway worked as a reporter for the Toronto Star Daily and in 1921 he moved to Paris as the paper’s European correspondent. Hemingway’s background as a reporter is clearly shown in most of his work, and the rules inflicted in the newspaper, advocating short sentences, short paragraphs, active verb, authenticity, compression, clarity and immediacy follows him throughout his career. He later said: “Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I’ve never forgotten them.” (Wilson) He lived, worked and wrote in Paris for the next six years, until he moved back to the US in 1928.
Hemingway was an eager hunter and fisher. He went on many hunting safaris to Africa and was a passionate deep sea fisher. Hemingway’s love of nature and hunting is shown in many of his novels and short stories, most clearly in the book The Old Man and The Sea from 1952. The struggle between the man and the marlin is a brilliant description of courage and stamina, and the old man seems to be the prime example of the Hemingway hero, a culmination of a lifetime of writing that comes together in the character of Santiago. Hemingway settled in the US in 1928 and wrote much of his best work in the next ten-fifteen years.
He worked as a correspondent in the Spanish Civil War in 1937, and covered the Normandy invasion and the liberation of Paris among others in the final face of World War II. Hemingway received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. The stories I have chosen for this essay, The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1938?), Hills like White Elephants (1927), Cat in the Rain (1923?), The Killers (1927) and A Clean Well-Lighted Place (1933), have many things in common, but are also distinct in their own ways. All five are centered within a small geographic area, and the time span of the stories are relatively short in all five. I will give a brief recap of each story before I start analyzing them thoroughly. The Snows of Kilimanjaro describes a couple on a hunting safari who has had an accident.
The husband, Harry, has injured his foot, and it became infected. Because of bad/wrong treatment of the wound, he is slowly dying. The wife takes care of him and tries to provide for him the best she can, but in the end she can’t prevent him from dying. On his deathbed Harry contemplates his life and the things he never did. Hills Like White Elephants is a story about a man and his girlfriend. On the surface it seams like they are sitting on a train station waiting for a train to Madrid.
Upon closer examination of the conversation there are signs that there is more to it than meets the eye. In fact, she is pregnant and they are on their way to get an abortion. This is what they actually discuss. Cat in the Rain is also a story about a couple. The couple, elderly and probably wealthy, is on holiday in Italy.
The woman sees a cat caught out in the rain and wants to go downstairs and “save” it. When she gets down to the cat, the animal is gone. However, the hotel-keeper comes to her rescue and later gets the cat in and brought up to their room. The Killers is a story about two men entering a diner and discussing with the manager. They hold the manager, the cock and the only guest by gunpoint and force them into the kitchen.
Then they reveal that they are there to kill a man, Ole Andreson, but the man never show up. The three “hostages” are released unharmed when Andreson doesn’t appear. As the guest (Nick Adams, a character in several Hemingway stories) goes to warn Andreson, he finds the man unaffected and little interested in trying to escape. In A Clean Well-Lighted Place Hemingway takes the reader to a small café where two waiters are having a discussion about an old man who is the last remaining guest. Apparently the man has tried to take his life earlier, and he is a regular guest at the establishment. The youngest waiter wants to kick him out so he can go home, while the older waiter sympathizes with the man and wants to let him stay a bit longer.
In the end the younger waiter kicks the old man out. “Maybe you could never write them, and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting.” The Snows of Kilimanjaro Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro is a story about a man and his death struggle, 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 mean of financial support, and as an inescapable urge. When analyzing the story, much focus can be put on the failures of Harry.
His failures to write, his failures as a man, a husband and a hunter. Harry and his wife ended up in the unfortunate position after Harry had an accident on their hunting trip, and wounded his leg. The leg has been infected and Harry is slowly dying. As he is dying Harry contemplates his life and all the things he didn’t do, write or say in his lifetime. At his deathbed Harry find himself at the base of the mighty Kilimanjaro mountain, the highest point in Africa. He is looking up at the snow-covered top of the mountain, and at the end, as he passed away, he dreams that he reaches the top.
Obviously the mountain plays a significant role in the story, and this is also shown in the title. In his death dream, Harry dreams that this is where he is headed, but the reader leaves Harry in an indeterminate state and returns to the world of the living, were in fact Harry has died in his bed. Harry, as a writer, never writes about the things which he most wants, and is therefore a failure. Harry is the author who cannot bring himself to write about his past experiences. The italicized portions of the story are the ones about which Harry has always desired, but never been able, to write.
In fact, the italicized text is comprised of the experiences which would have made good fiction, had they only been written. Sadly, 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. Hemingway portrays Harry as a man who is a “failed artist”, as an artist who is struggling with his art, an art that Hemingway knows intimately. In several of his short stories, Ernest Hemingway uses one or more animals as symbols around which the stories revolve. In The Snows Of Kilimanjaro, the animal symbols can easily be observed. Hemingway uses two different animals to symbolize the person Harry wishes is and the man he has actually become.
The leopard, even if it is only seen in the opening paragraph of the story, is a symbol of what Harry wishes he was. It’s presence is important throughout the story. In the opening paragraph, the reader is told the legend of the leopard carcass found at the top of Kilimanjaro. This leopard, it seems, was seeking the summit for some unknown reason. The leopard gives the reader associations of grace, speed, strength, courage, and dignity. It is an animal that acts with purpose, with lightning speed, and with accuracy.
In this story, the leopard symbolizes all of these qualities, lacking in Harry The hyena is a symbol of qualities that are present in Harry. This vicious scavenger, who all through the story circles the camp, waiting for Harry to die, represents the scavenger-like qualities of Harry’s personality and his spiritual death, which has occurred long before his physical one. Because he was too afraid to try, Harry never was able to live out his talent decisively, and he realizes that if he dies, he “would not have to fail at writing [his thoughts] down”, and therefore does not fight against death. He merely awaits death, expecting to gain from it the spiritual enlightenment that others must work hard for. The hyena is much closer related to Harry’s personality than the leopard.
He has lived off the riches of his wife, calling his love for her “the lie he made his bread and butter by”. Harry lies crippled on a cot while his wife goes “to kill a piece of meat”, the camp is an extension of the real world in which Harry picks up the leftovers of others, just as the hyenas live off the leftovers of the better hunters. Every time the hyena appears in the story, it is somehow associated with Harry’s death. When Harry faces the realization of his death, it comes “with a rush. .
. of a sudden evil-smelling emptiness. . . that the hyena slipped lightly on the edge of” and when death finally sets in, it is announced by the hyena, with “a strange, human, almost crying sound” Since it is with Harry’s psychological state that the hyena is associated, it is not necessarily of Harry’s physical death that the hyena is symbolic. It is just as well a symbol of the psychological death that has already occurred because of his inability to act decisively and write down his inner thoughts.
The physical death is simply the last step in this process. Also the hyena symbolizes death itself. It is an animal that lives of death and dead animals, unable to hunt for itself. Towards the end the hyena is replaced by Death, but in the final paragraph it is back as the symbol of Harry, both his life and his death. The two animals in the story represent conflicting personality traits. Harry, in the end, dies as he lives, as a hyena scavenging the leopard’s leftovers on the plains below the Kilimanjaro. Hemingway is known as a master of the innuendo, the double meaning.
Also in several other stories he uses the animal symbol as a description of the protagonist or main character. In Cat in the Rain, the animal symbol is so essential to the story that it is described already in the title. This “cat in the rain” is symbolic of the emotional state of mind of the American wife. She is in a near drowned emotional state, caused by her husbands apathy and lack of affection. Hemingway also establishes a bond between the woman and the cat right from the start.
She empathizes with the animal and when it’s first observed seeking cover under the table, it is described as “she”, even though the gender is clearly impossible to establish from three floors up. However this creates a bond in the readers mind between the cat and the American woman. The American woman’s empathy for the cat is shown through her persistence to rescue it from the rain, despite the fact that she has to go out and get wet herself. She knows “it isn’t any fun to be a poor kitty out in the rain”. It is soon clear to the observant reader why the woman emphasizes with the cat.
(Besides the fact that she likes cats.) She herself feels like a cat drowning in the rain. Her husband is the source of her emotional despair, and he doesn’t really give her the attention she deserves. When she tells him her desires, he is indifferent to her needs. The woman wants the cat so she can hold it on “her lap and pet it as it purrs.” Obviously she is expressing the desire to be loved and held. Maybe even the need for someone to stroke her, physically as well as emotionally. There are clearly strong sexual undertone in this story, as is the case in several of Hemingway’s stories.
The woman feels unwomanly, like a boy with her short hair. When the cat finally is brought in from the rain, it is the hotel-keeper that has responded to the woman’s needs and came to her (or the cat’s) rescue, not her husband. That is the same man that had caused in her “a momentary feeling of supreme importance”, and in whom she admired ‘the way he wanted to serve her”. He has provided the woman with the attention that she’s not receiving from her husband, at least not emotionally. The sexual undertone suggests that the wife might be satisfied by the hotel-keeper, emotionally as well as sexually. The sexual undertone, which is a trademark in many of Hemingway’s novels and short stories, is also present in the story Hills Like White Elephants. In this story Hemingway portrays a couple that on the surface is only taking a trip, waiting for their train to arrive. At a first glance one is almost led to believe that this is it, that these two people just sit in the bar and talk about drinking and nothing of importance.
However, looking deeper into the conversation one can detect much more. They are obviously on their way to some (illegal) clinic where she can have an abortion. This is never stated directly, but the convers …