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(portions of my essay on the amazing short story by Hemingway. The story is a work of genius; read it, if you haven't already. if you have read it, please, tell me if what I'm saying makes any sense)
There are many elements that challenge Harry, and he at times credits these with sabotaging his efforts. One of these is the loss of love - that is, being left by his first love. He accredits to this a loneliness that he could never kill. In essence, this is the beginning of the end for Harry. He says how he “had been contemptuous of those who wrecked... because no thing could hurt him if he did not care.” The failure of this first love was something he cared deeply about, and to deal with it he began trying to care less and less about it.
In Harry’s mind, the concept of love and the idea of comfort have an odd relationship. He describes loving each wife less and less after the first, and each one having more and more money. Comfort is represented as a numbing of the senses, and an attempt to forget things you once cared about, as one enters into a life of luxury. He lists the means by which he destroyed his ability as writer: drink, sloth, snobbery, pride and prejudice, hook and crook. And now that his life is ending, he resents the fact that he succumbed to all these things.
The original promise of love was, for Harry, one where vitality and comfort could co-exist: that is, all his energy and purpose in life would be directed and enhanced through his intense love for a woman.
Harry is challenged by the overwhelming series of experiences which are recorded so vividly in his head. He feels he should be able to take hold of these experiences, and finally master them by representing them in his writing. He is challenged by his own potential, and by how important those experiences are to him. Harry has the ability to take in whole situations and feels he is on the edge of a great understanding about life, but that his ability to complete this understanding and transmit it through writing has been hampered by series of delays and setbacks.
The essential metaphor used by this story is provided at the very beginning, with the brief description of how a leopard carcass was found near the summit of mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain peak in Africa. This attempt by the leopard is an analog to Hemingway’s presented view of the life of men: in order to achieve the fullest of his potential, a man must work alone; he must not succumb to a life of comfort. The leopard abandons the comfort of the lower altitude and warmth, as well as the company of others, to achieve the great feat of reaching the summit: the summit represents the completion of a life’s work, which it is a man’s duty in life to pursue.
At the very end, we see the final expression of how Harry completes his understanding of life. In death, his vision of ascending towards the top of Kilimanjaro in a plane represents two final revelations: that in the end, the fear of death subsides as the mind senses the completion of life’s journey; and that it is in fact inevitable that it will be this way in the end - that no life, even one spent in struggle is without a certain closure in the mind’s eye.
"History is more or less bunk." - Henry Ford