In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Harry has dysfunctional relationships with women. He typically sees them as nothing more than a means to an end, since he uses their money to live a life of luxury. Though at times he is cruelly dismissive of his own wife, Harry does occasionally display genuine respect for Helen by acknowledging the strength she has shown in the face of great emotional hardships. In his inconsistent attitude toward women, the reader sees Harry’s insecurities. As a kept man, he is not fulfilling the typical gender roles of the era in which men were expected to provide for their wives, creating a sense of inadequacy which he projects onto the women who keep him. Hemingway doesn’t disprove or challenge Harry’s view that relationships require a leader and that the man ought to lead; however, by framing Harry’s resentment as rooted in his own anxiety about manhood, the story implicitly highlights the reductive and restrictive nature of stereotypical gender roles.
Harry sees the role of women in his life as functional rather than romantic. He has used wealthy women to maintain a lifestyle that suits him. Harry depicts his relationship with Helen (and by implication his previous lovers) as purely transactional, noting to himself that “it was strange that when he did not love her at all and was lying, that he should be able to give her more for her money.” Their partnership is more related to business than romance, though he feigns the latter to ensure his pay check. Harry also paints his wife as the “hostess” at the end of a party. This dismissive depiction further reveals his view of her as only a bit part within a wider story—which is, of course, his own story.
Rich women have been instrumental to Harry’s pursuit of a quality of life beyond his means. He resents these women, however, deflecting his frustration that he needs their money and is not self-sufficient. From the very beginning of the story Helen’s money comes between them, revealing more about Harry’s own insecurities than her value as a person. Harry’s first exchange with his wife, for instance, leads to bickering over Helen’s “bloody money” and his references to her “own people.” He holds her wealth against her, despite the fact she considers it his wealth, as well: “It was always yours as much as mine.” Helen has opened her life up to him, but he responds with bitterness at his subordinate social standing. Furthermore, Helen is not the only woman Harry has used in this way, as a string of women have kept him in the life of comfort to which he has become accustomed: “It was strange, too, wasn’t it, that when he fell in love with another woman, that woman should always have more money than the last one?” He notes that lying to these women about loving them is how he “made his bread and butter.” His cynical tone highlights his resentment of his dependence, his distaste revealing a self-awareness of his deficiencies. He ought to be the breadwinner, but instead he has chosen a life reliant on women’s wealth, fostering his sense of inadequacy.
Yet, at other times Harry reveals deep respect for his wife, as well as his previous partners. His frustrations are rooted in his own insecurities, and his changing attitude further reveals that his viewpoint is not objective. After yet another round bickering, Harry reflects on Helen’s many qualities, such as her strong spirit and shooting skills, with a depth of feeling akin to a truly loving husband. When leaving aside his resentment over her higher social status, Harry clearly has high regard for his wife as an individual, revealing a more layered treatment of women in the story than the couple’s first argument would suggest. Without his own self-doubt, he can simply admire the strong woman standing before him. Helen is a well-rounded character in her own right in the story. She goes out to hunt by herself, notably bringing back a male antelope. Her backstory involves personal loss, emotional hardship and self-assured independence—she did not need Harry, but sought him out for herself. “The steps by which she had acquired him,” Hemingway writes, “were all part of a regular progression in which she had built herself a new life and he had traded away what remained of his old life.” While Harry respects her strength, he sees her independent spirit as mutually exclusive to his own. According to his world view, one half of the couple must lead, and Harry has traded away his normative gender role (and thereby his own independence and self-respect) to defer to her.
In this first-person narrative, the protagonist’s view of women is limited by his own insecurities, in particular his sense of emasculation. Even as Hemingway gives depth to Helen’s character with a detailed and dramatic back story, she serves a subordinate role because she is seen only through the lens of Harry’s subjective perspective. That Hemingway doesn’t flatly reject Harry’s viewpoints, however, doesn’t mean that the story inherently supports or disagrees with them. What it does show is that men of the era saw women primarily through the prism of their own—perhaps insecure—masculinity.
A Man’s View of Women ThemeTracker
A Man’s View of Women Quotes in The Snows of Kilimanjaro
“I love you, really. You know I love you. I’ve never loved any one else the way I love you.” He slipped into the familiar lie he made his bread and butter by.
And he had chosen to make his living with something else instead of a pen or a pencil. It was strange, too, wasn’t it, that when he fell in love with another woman, that woman should always have more money than the last one?
The steps by which she had acquired him and the way in which she had finally fallen in love with him were all part of a regular progression in which she had built herself a new life and he had traded away what remained of his old life. He had traded it for security, for comfort too, there was no denying that, and for what else?
No, he thought, when everything you do, you do too long, and do too late, you can’t expect to find the people still there. The people all are gone. The party’s over and you are with your hostess now.