The Snows of Kilimanjaro

by

Ernest Hemingway

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The Hyena and Birds Symbol Analysis

The Hyena and Birds Symbol Icon

Both a hyena and a flock of scavenging birds circle the safari camp as Harry gradually succumbs to his gangrene infection. As animals that eat carrion, these creatures are omens of Harry’s impending death. Accordingly, they appear throughout the story at moments when death, or Harry’s awareness of it, is especially close. At one point, Harry deflects a question by pointing to the birds and saying, “I’m dying now. Ask those bastards.” More birds arrive as Harry’s death creeps ever closer: “The birds no longer waited on the ground. They were all perched heavily in a tree. There were many more of them.” The animals’ growing numbers and urgency create a sense of momentum and dread. The hyena, too, is directly connected to Harry’s impending death at various points throughout the story. When he feels death approach for the first time, for example, he notes that “the odd thing was that the hyena slipped lightly along the edge of it.” The animal is a physical reflection of the fate awaiting Harry, and he begins to fixate on it as his mind grows weaker and more confused. Harry eventually tells Helen that death can take on any form, including “the wide snout of a hyena,” just as he feels death itself lay its head on his cot. It is also notably the hyena’s cry that awakens Helen in the night and alerts her to Harry’s eventual passing.

The Hyena and Birds Quotes in The Snows of Kilimanjaro

The The Snows of Kilimanjaro quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Hyena and Birds. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Ever-present Death Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon and Schuster edition of The Snows of Kilimanjaro published in 1987.
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro” Quotes

And just then it occurred to him that he was going to die. It came with a rush; not as a rush of water nor of wind; but of a sudden evil-smelling emptiness and the odd thing was that the hyena slipped lightly along the edge of it.

Related Characters: Harry
Related Symbols: Gangrene, The Hyena and Birds
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Hyena and Birds Symbol Timeline in The Snows of Kilimanjaro

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Hyena and Birds appears in The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
“The Snows of Kilimanjaro”
Ever-present Death Theme Icon
...its “odor.” Laying on a cot under a mimosa tree, Harry wonders if the circling birds are drawn by this smell or by the sight of him. The birds have been... (full context)
Ever-present Death Theme Icon
A Man’s View of Women Theme Icon
...die, Harry says that he is currently dying—“Ask those bastards,” he comments, referencing the circling birds. Helen tells him he won’t die if he doesn’t “give up,” and he calls her... (full context)
Ever-present Death Theme Icon
Comfort vs Calling Theme Icon
A Man’s View of Women Theme Icon
It seems Harry has been asleep, as he awakens in the evening. There are more birds waiting in a nearby tree. A servant tells him Helen has gone off to shoot.... (full context)
Ever-present Death Theme Icon
Harry suggests they have a drink. Night falls as they do so, and a hyena passes beyond the edges of the camp. Harry says the “bastard crosses there every night.”... (full context)
Ever-present Death Theme Icon
Comfort vs Calling Theme Icon
Deathbed Memories Theme Icon
A Man’s View of Women Theme Icon
...The firelight shines on Helen’s “pleasantly lined face” and he hears the cry of the hyena beyond the firelight. He tells her he's been writing, but he got tired. They discuss... (full context)
Ever-present Death Theme Icon
...skull,” as it can just as easily be two policemen on bikes or a wide-snouted hyena. He tells it to go away and asks Helen to tell it to leave too.... (full context)
Ever-present Death Theme Icon
Back in the tent, Helen is asleep. The “strange, human, almost crying” of the hyena rings out in the night. Helen, still asleep, dreams of her daughter’s debut at “the... (full context)