The Snows Of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway, 1936
The magic trick:
The italicized sections
It’s fun to end Hemingway Week with a story that strays almost entirely from his trademark bare-bones approach. I don’t mean that this story is bloated with extraneous language. It’s not. I only mean that “Snows” shows Hemingway doing a bit more work for the reader in terms of filling in the gaps. This is not a mere sketch, as I’d claim we saw the last two days on the SSMT blog with “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and “A Small Enquiry.”
Hemingway uses italicized print (or at least his publishers have) to set off segments of the story that only exist in our injured protagonist’s mind. The bulk of the action consists only of the injured man talking to his wife, waiting for medical rescue while stranded in the African veldt. I think in many Hemingway stories that would be enough. He’d leave it there; leave it for the reader to extrapolate what he or she wants from the conversation and situation. Some people love that. I’m not some people. It kind of annoys me. So, you can imagine, I enjoy this story more than most of his work.
The italicized sections take us away from the dire scene in Africa and into the man’s thoughts as he assesses various scenes and stages in his life and generally comes to feel a sense of regret about his love life and his writing career. The passages, too, demonstrate a tendency toward wordiness by Hemingway’s usual standards. The descriptions are nearly downright lush. Each bit of backstory provides more and more depth to the increasingly desperate scene in Africa. By story’s end, it is not simply a simple portrait. It is a complete picture. And that’s quite a trick on Hemingway’s part.
They were snow-bound a week in the Madlenerhaus that time in the blizzard playing cards in the smoke by the lantern light and the stakes were higher all the time as Herr Lent lost more. Finally he lost it all. Everything, the Skischule money and all the season’s profit and then his capital. He could see him with his long nose, picking up the cards and then opening, “Sans Voir.” There was always gambling then. When there was no snow you gambled and when there was too much you gambled. He thought of all the time in his life he had spent gambling.
But he had never written a line of that, nor of that cold, bright Christmas day with the mountains showing across the plain that Barker had flown across the lines to bomb the Austrian officers’ leave train, machine-gunning them as they scattered and ran. He remembered Barker afterwards coming into the mess and starting to tell about it. And how quiet it got and then somebody saying, ”You bloody murderous bastard.”
Those were the same Austrians they killed then that he skied with later. No not the same. Hans, that he skied with all that year, had been in the Kaiser Jagers and when they went hunting hares together up the little valley above the saw-mill they had talked of the fighting on Pasubio and of the attack on Perticara and Asalone and he had never written a word of that. Nor of Monte Corona, nor the Sette Communi, nor of Arsiero.
How many winters had he lived in the Vorarlberg and the Arlberg? It was four and then he remembered the man who had the fox to sell when they had walked into Bludenz, that time to buy presents, and the cherry-pit taste of good kirsch, the fast-slipping rush of running powder-snow on crust, singing ”Hi! Ho! said Rolly!’ ‘ as you ran down the last stretch to the steep drop, taking it straight, then running the orchard in three turns and out across the ditch and onto the icy road behind the inn. Knocking your bindings loose, kicking the skis free and leaning them up against the wooden wall of the inn, the lamplight coming from the window, where inside, in the smoky, new-wine smelling warmth, they were playing the accordion.