An Apprentice in the Snows of Kilimanjaro
(Text cited from Norton Anthology Volume D)
In the world of Hemingway, there are two kinds of hero's; the apprentice and the exemplar. While it is possible for many characters to match up with certain aspects of the exemplar hero, it is often more frequent that they fall into the first category of the apprentice hero. The idea of the hero whom is not in full control of himself or the situation is a commonly used idea and it is fully fleshed out in Hemingway's short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” The main character of the story seems to fit every aspect of the apprentice hero yet lurks upon the periphery of the exemplar. Despite all of his talking big, the main character of Harry fears his death and does not truly accept it of his own volition, but rather fears it and lets it creep over himself. As well, thoughts of how he was never able to write all the stories he wish he could have written during his life pop up throughout the story. Furthermore, a lack of professionalism leads Harry to his death, and as such, it is only through the solace of liquor that he perseveres through his last remaining days. In all these ways, Harry is a perfect example of apprentice hero.
By dying on the hunt, Hemingway shows Harry obviously fitting two of the criteria for the apprentice. First, he shows that Harry lacks professionalism in his life; he is a man without a trade. Through this, Hemingway shows how Harry lost his writing ability and is unable to reclaim it, an apparent psychic wound that he is forced to live with. Unlike an exemplar hero who would pick up a new trade they were me suited to persevering that way, Harry simply allows his ability to slip away and lets his regrets have free run of his inner thought process.
The first aspect to take to heart when examining the character of Harry would be his lack of professionalism. It is a well known fact that Hemingway had his own conception of survival of the fittest within which only consummate professionals could thrive. Harry, however, is a washed up writer who is merely on a hunting expedition. His lack of professionalism is blatantly expressed when Harry states the reason for his wound. “I suppose what I did was to forget to put iodine on it when I first scratched it. Then I didn't pay any attention to it because I never infect,” (1850). This shows how it was through Harry's own laziness that he became infected and allowed himself to become gangrene by “using the weak carbolic solution when the other antiseptics ran out… and started the gangrene,” (1850). By not taking proper care of himself, Harry calls forth his own doom. Harry's idea that “all the time in his life he had spent gambling,” (1851) seems to distance him from responsibility, another example of how he fails to be professional and take responsibility for his actions.
While this shows a lack of professionalism on his part in the taking care of himself, there is also a noticeable lack of professionalism in his work as well. Throughout the story, the reader is given snippets on Harry's feelings about the people he has been with, and he makes a point of noting that he tended to simply go with the richest woman who was around. Harry further goes to state that “He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in,” (1853). By lacking any redeemable skill, it can be ascertained that there is no reason that Harry should survive. Had he kept at his work rather than simply staying in comfort and allowing his ability to dwindle, he also would not have had all the regrets that he has throughout the story, as witnessed through his various flashbacks to events in his life that had gone unwritten. The idea that he gave up his talent for a simple pleasure cruise haunts Harry to his last moments.
The next way in which Harry fits the role of the apprentice is in the way that he deals with his approaching demise. While he could simply accept it and be civil about it, making death subservient to himself, he instead lashes out at the people around him and tries to drown his sorrow in booze. Despite the pleadings of his lover, he continues to down whiskey-sodas throughout the course of the story. Between each flashback, Harry takes another Whiskey soda, showing his dependence upon liquor to get through the situation. This not only shows his inability to responsibly handle himself, but also his reliance on outside stimuli to get through the situation.
Despite the liquor deafening the senses of Harry, he still manages to take time to contemplate his death. While he does make one stab at attempting to write at one point (1857), he enters into a passivity about death; a strong apathy towards life. Rather than taking control of his fate and not allowing his senses to mislead him, he begins to see death as a being, an outside force that creeps up upon him. When he is lying “still and death was not there,” (1860) it is a defeatist outlook in so much as one cannot control the actions of another. By personifying death, Harry removes himself from the situation, similar to how he attempted to place blame on his lover at the beginning of the story, and fails to accept his role and responsibility. This passivity towards death, and the idea of letting it conquer him, as compared to vice versa, is further shown when he states “I'm getting as bored with dying as with everything else,” (1862). Rather than attempt to take death humbly or not think about it, he over analyzes it, personifying it, thinking of it as something to do, just like riding a bike or reading a book.
Furthermore, it is the abundance of thought that runs through Harry's head that quickly points him out to be an apprentice hero. While he could have taken his death with dignity, his observations upon it allow it to conquer him. The danger seemingly starts for him when “it occurred to him that he was going to die” (1855). From that point on in the story, the balance of power seems to go from Henry to death. While before he had been able to compose himself with mild decorum, from then on he becomes unable to think about anything other than death. Just as he needs a drink every time that he wasn't in a flashback, his very mortality seems to haunt him every time that he returns to the present. This on coming sense of death is further brought to light by Harry's obsession that “There was so much to write” (1857). By focusing too much upon his past and what he was unable to accomplish, Harry is never able to fully accept death, and in the end, merely allows it to take over him, just like how he let his writing ability to leave him.
For all of these reasons, Harry could never be seen as an exemplar hero. Living in fear of his death and focusing upon his regrets, he is unable to move into acceptance of his death and thereby turns it into an outside living, breathing force which he is unable to control. Through his lack of professionalism in his work and taking responsibility for his actions, combined with his reliance upon liquor to make it through his last day, he must indefinitely remain the less than noble hero. Though Harry could easily have risen to be an exemplar hero in other circumstances, the wounds of his past seem to powerful for him to move into a graceful finish.