Hemmingway Essay Research Paper JanErik SaueEnglish 352

Hemmingway Essay, Research Paper

Jan-Erik Saue

English 352, Short Stories

TTH 12:15

Final paper



“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 caf? 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 conversation is clearly circling the subject.

The characters in the story are also described differently. They are introduced as the American and the girl, showing that there is a age difference between them. The man is never named, and not given much of a personality. The girl, later named Jig, has more of a personality. She has a difficult time making up her mind whether or not to keep the baby and has a problem clearly stating what she thinks to the American. She thinks the abortion can save their relationship, while the man already has distanced himself from her and realized that they can’t go back to where they were before.

The characters are really mysterious, we know nothing about their lives but they seem to have nothing to do in life apart from sex and drinking. They spend the time drinking, alcohol is considered as aphrodisiac. They order “an?s” because she wants to try new things, maybe she is considering the possibility of having a new relationship or a new experience in life, but when she tastes it she says “it tastes like licorice” which is a very common and not exotic taste, and she adds that “Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for… ” implying that when you wait for something for a long time, for instance a relationship, once you get it, it loses the mystery and appeal. Later on there is a reference to the routine they seem to be in when she says that all they do is looking at things and trying new drinks.

The two briefly discuss their future, and by that time the attitude of the American regarding the unborn child is annoying Jig. This is shown in her remark “And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy?” The sarcasm in Jig’s question is evident, but the American is oblivious to the meaning and tosses the subject aside and continues to discuss the “simple operation.” He is clearly afraid that she will change her mind about the operation, and he is all the time trying to reassure her in the decision. He openly refers to the operation as nothing of importance, and very easy; “It’s just to let the air in”.

The American feels that the pregnancy is a nuisance in their lives. The baby would mean the necessity to settle down and start a family, and this would change their life. They live a nomadic life, moving around a lot, and their suitcases are full of “labels from all the hotels they had spent nights.” At the end of the story the American says “we can have the world” and Jig replies “No, we can’t. It isn’t ours anymore? And once they have taken it away, you never get it back.” Here we can detect that Jig wants the child, and knows that once she has the operation she won’t be able to get the child back. She’s also afraid that after the operation the relationship will change.

The American is only concerned about her having the operation. He wants to convince her it is her decision, but leaves only one option. He says “if you don’t want to you don’t have to?But I know it’s perfectly simple.” He is the only one who have no doubts about it.

The symbolism in the story is not as obvious as in “Cat in the Rain”, but also in this story Hemingway utilizes symbols to illustrate. The story takes place in a train station in the valley of the Ebro, Spain. The train in the story could symbolize change, and the fact that it only stops for two minutes illustrates the short time in which Jig has to make a decision. At this point in time abortion was certainly not legal in catholic Spain, and the decision had to be taken quickly. In a way the train symbolizes the journey of life.

Many things in the story is related to fertility and aridness. The topic of pregnancy and abortion is illustrated through the title of the story where “Hills Like White Elephants” refer to the shape of the belly of a pregnant woman. The first impression you get when you start reading the text is that it is situated in the middle of a dry, infertile place under the sun, with no shade or trees. It reinforces the idea of lack of life but in contrast, the people are in the warm shadow of the building where life is. This emphasizes the contrast between the pregnancy of the woman, as being fertile, and everything around them, including him. They are also separated from the rest of the people that are inside the bar from a bamboo bead curtain, it gives the idea of privacy reinforced by the idea of the warm shadow of the building that protects them from the world that exists inside the bar, they are outside, with nature.

The unusual name of the girl, Jig, is also somewhat symbolic. It is the name of a lively dance and it can also refer to “a particular sort of behavior or activity which varies according to the situation that someone is in” (Collins Cobuild Dictionary). I discovered this by chance looking up the dance, but that meaning of the name clearly shows that Hemingway didn’t pick the name out of the air. The name implies that she can change her mind about the abortion, and the American is afraid that this might happen. He is all the time trying to reassure her in the decision.

After the first introductory paragraph, the dialogue between the two people start. The dialogue seems casual, but through it we can deduce the kind of relationship they have. The language is simple, but it’s still expressing feelings. The real theme of the conversation is not clearly stated but it is underlying, they are talking about love, feelings and her pregnancy. The tension is in the air, but is not expressed openly, maybe because of a fear of being overheard (since they are talking about an illegal act), or maybe it’s just a problem of communication and of sharing feelings. There are some references to sexuality in the form of phallic symbols, such as “An?s del Toro”, the bull being a symbol of virility and strength.

It’s the girl, Jig, who starts the dialogue and she is the one taking the decisions, implying that the decision for the abortion in the end will be hers. The American avoids the topic at first, changing the subject and talk about simple things such as the weather. Like most men, he has a problem showing his feelings.

The story also shows another trait of Hemingway’s stories; the use of Spanish (foreign) words and sentences. The man orders “dos cervezas” from the bar lady. One can assume that she doesn’t speak English, but later on he orders and she answers in English. However, from the context of the story it is clear that this conversation also takes place in Spanish, but that in order not to translate the whole conversation only the first word exchange was kept in Spanish to set the stage.

The use of Spanish word and sentences is also shown in the story A Clean Well-Lighted Place. This story is, like “Hills Like White Elephants”, set in a small Spanish town and almost the entire story takes place inside a small “caf?.” The main part of the story is the conversation between the two waiters. The younger waiter is impatient to get home to his wife, and angry at the old man who’s keeping them there so late. The other waiter is older, unmarried and in no hurry to get home. He empathizes with the old man, and understand his need to stay there. In fact he states that “I am of those who like to stay late at the caf?.” The older waiter shows concern for the old man, and he is the one who knows about the niece and the suicide attempt. As the story progresses, the character of the two waiters emerges through their dialogue and thoughts, as does many of Hemingway’s characters.

The use of Spanish words in this story, suggesting it takes place in Spain, emerges at the end of the story, as the older waiter walks of alone and visits some bar. When the bartender asks what he wants, the man answers in Spanish: “Nada”. The bartender answers in Spanish “Otro loco mas” suggesting that, as is the case with the conversation between the man and the waiter in Hills Like White Elephants, the whole conversation actually takes place in Spanish.

The setting of the story in Spain could also be supported by the surroundings of the caf?. The soldier passing by with his sweetheart, and the two men’s comments at the time suggests that it is in the period of the dictatorship before the civil war, or during the war. Their comments that the guards will get him could point to a time of conflict. (Like the civil war.)

In the story the older waiter possesses many of the typical character traits of the Hemingway hero. He is reserved, judgmental and thoughtful, much like Harry in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”. He takes the old man in his defense, and shows concern for him. He says he knows how nice it is to be in a clean, well-lighted place instead of in some noisy, dirty bar. He doesn’t mind staying in the bar a little longer so the man can finish up in his own pace. At the end he has a “discussion” with himself, contemplating his life and religion and the emptiness of his existence. This is another parallel to the character of Harry.

As A Clean Well-Lighted Place and Hills like White Elephants, the story The Killers is placed in a little place. This story is situated inside a small diner in a small town called Summit. The story begins as two men, immediately striking the reader as rude and unpleasant men, enters and starts to hassle the manager, George. There is only one customer in the diner except the two gangsters, and he is quickly intimidated by the men. The customer, Nick Adams, is a character Hemingway writes about in several stories. Like the two other stories mentioned earlier, this story is merely told as if someone is outside registering what happens. Hemingway often writes his stories like that, as if observed by a camera.

Also the dialogue in the story is typical of Hemingway. It is the dialogue that carries the action of the story and there is no need for much explanation except to describe certain actions. The style of much dialogue and a writing the way people speak is something Hemingway masters perfectly. The emotion behind the dialogue is also easy to spot in most Hemingway stories.

In this story it seems as if Andreson doesn’t care about his life anymore. Like Harry in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, he merely accepts the fact that he’s dying. Neither Andreson or Harry is doing anything to avoid their destiny, even though in both cases they could probably at least postpone death. Andreson merely says “there’s nothing I can do about it” and he just stays apathetic in his room. The fact that he haven’t been out all day points to him already knowing about the gangsters from Chicago, and as George suggests, he probably got in to some kind of trouble in Chicago.


Hemingway generally use much dialogue and writes in a conversational style. All five of the stories I have chosen contain a lot of dialogue and the characters carry the action of the story through their conversation. Hemingway, like William Faulkner, was an expert in writing human dialogue.

The symbolism in Hemingway’s stories are often taking form of animals, but also other symbols are commonly used. In several of his short stories, Ernest Hemingway uses one or several animals as symbols around which the stories revolve. As central symbols, Hemingway’s animals are the manifestations of the psychological states and emotional desires of the main characters in the stories and are used to enable the reader’s apprehension of the often unstated psychological forces that motivate them.

The sexual undertone is also often a strong presence in Hemingway’s stories. As the conversation goes on the feeling that there is more to what the character say emerges, and one can understand the underlying, double meaning of the story. This is something notably of Hemingway. Often he is characterized as the “master of innuendo and double meaning.”

The geographical placement of Hemingway’s stories are usually limited to minimal physical settings, and the time span is short. All five stories discussed here are limited to a little place, whether that is a bar, train station, caf?, diner or the small hunting camp on the great plains of Africa. This is a usual trait in many short stories, and this is a trait Hemingway often uses.

The women, or the supporting characters, in Hemingway’s stories are often weak and indecisive. The wife in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, the woman in Cat in the Rain and the girl in Hills Like White Elephants are all either weak or treated badly without them doing anything about it. Harry’s wife in The Snows of Kilimanjaro is not even named, even though we get to know Harry well through the story. Jig in Hills Like White Elephants seems to be a strong woman. However, the way she is treated and the fact that she most likely will give in to the mans whishes and have the abortion, tells us that she isn’t strong enough to stand up for herself after all.

Hemingway has a tendency to treat the women in his stories badly, and the male characters of his stories is often emotionally cold and doesn’t show much feelings. This could be a reflection of his own life, Hemingway was married several times and never seemed emotionally stabile. He eventually even took his life.

Hemingway’s characters are usually mobile and unattached. Often they are people who are travelling in strange and unfamiliar environments, in train stations, on safari, at diners or bars, at the races or in the bull fighting arena. He writes about lovers, often tearing each other apart. He writes about the old writer on his deathbed, glancing up at the snow covered top of Kilimanjaro and thinking about everything his life should have been. He writes about the lonely old man, patiently sitting in the clean well-lighted place as long as he can, just to forget about whatever it is waiting for him out in the night. He writes about the old man fighting the marlin in his little boat, just to prove to himself that he can beat the sea one more time. Hemingway is one of the greatest writers of our century, and his stories will live on to amuse many generations to come.

Jan-Erik Saue


Wilson, M., “No Man Alone – A biography of Ernest Hemingway”,

http://members.aol.com/Mwilson311/Hemingway/biography.htm, visited November 13, 1998

Pickering, James H., “Fiction 100 -An Anthology of Short Stories” 8th ed.,

Prentice-Hall inc. New Jersey, 1998

Hemingway, Ernest “Short Stories” Charles Scribner’ Sons

New York, 1953

Wilson, M., “No Man Alone – A biography of Ernest Hemingway”,

http://members.aol.com/Mwilson311/Hemingway/biography.htm, visited November 13, 1998

Pickering, James H., “Fiction 100 -An Anthology of Short Stories” 8th ed.,

Prentice-Hall inc. New Jersey, 1998

Hemingway, Ernest “Short Stories” Charles Scribner’ Sons

New York, 1953


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