In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Hemingway examines why and how an artist can fail in his calling. At first, Harry (who is a writer) finds various excuses for his lack of achievement—primarily the distractions of his romantic entanglements and living among the rich. Harry had told himself he would experience the high life and eventually write about the very wealthy, casting himself as a “spy in their country.” Ultimately, however, he is seduced by a life of comfort at the cost of his artistic output. In contrast, he sees his earlier life among the poor as the best source material for his craft. In this way, Hemingway suggests that excessive comfort is the enemy of art.
From the outset, Hemingway characterizes a life of ease as antithetical to creative output. Harry's example shows how prosperity distances a writer from both the desire and ability to produce meaningful work, noting that “each day of not writing, of comfort, of being that which he despised, dulled his ability and softened his will to work so that, finally, he did no work at all.” Here, comfort is set in direct opposition to a healthy work ethic and instead presented as an active force chipping away at Harry’s talent. Harry directs anger at his rich wife, Helen, for drawing him into this world of plenty: “Your bloody money,” he remarks early in the story, and repeatedly refers to his wife in his head as a “rich bitch.” This aggression reveals that he sees her money as an enemy to his aspiring talent, further reflecting his association of comfort with a lack of creativity. In the end, Harry regrets his years spent socializing with wealthy people: “The rich … were dull and they were repetitious.” Hemingway’s dismissive attitude toward the luxury in which Harry has spent his later years suggests that such a lifestyle cultivates creative impotence, given its lack of stimulus.
On his deathbed, Harry wishes he had time to write about the struggling poor people he once lived among, whose experiences—unlike those of the rich—provided a well of inspiration. For instance, he describes at length his time in the slums of Paris and laments never writing about the suffering of the ordinary people that he witnessed there: “No, he had never written about Paris. Not the Paris that he cared about.” Harry spends far more time at the very end of his life recalling those tougher, grittier experiences than he does reflecting on any of the high society parties he later attended. The implication is that writers should focus on that which moves them, and that writers have to be on the ground, living in hardship, to produce anything of consequence: “There was so much to write. He had seen the world change … He had been in it and he had watched it and it was his duty to write of it; but now he never would.” Because Harry chose comfort over calling, the meaningful stories of those people will die along with him, which Hemingway presents as a major betrayal of purpose and a moral failing.
On greater reflection, Harry accepts that he cannot blame anyone but himself for the fact he has fallen into the temptations of a life of comfort. He decides that his wife and the lifestyle she provided him are not to blame for him not writing, but rather his own choices are: “He had destroyed his talent himself,” he thinks. “Why should he blame this woman because she kept him well?” Upon accepting his responsibility, Harry reflects that “he had traded away what remained of his old life. He had traded it for security, for comfort too.” The fault lies with Harry for allowing the allure of comfort to undermine his work. The two cannot be pursued side by side, and so the writer must make his choice. In this way, Hemingway points the finger squarely at artists to ensure their lifestyles are conducive to meaningful output.
By exploring Harry’s regrets, Hemingway argues that choosing comfort over calling is a selfish act that provides no sense of fulfilment. Harry's life is a great waste: he has let down those whose stories will now go untold, whose lives and deaths will not be recorded for posterity. It is an artist’s choice, then, to decide if their life’s work is to be meaningful, and Hemingway suggests making this choice will take great passion and presence of mind. Hemingway further demonstrates for the reader, via Harry’s unsuccessful career, how true artists should experience the “real” world, which, the author suggests, is the only world worth writing about.
Comfort vs Calling ThemeTracker
Comfort vs Calling Quotes in The Snows of Kilimanjaro
So now it was all over, he thought. So now he would never have a chance to finish it. So this was the way it ended, in a bickering over a drink.
Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them, and that was why you put them off and delayed the starting. Well he would never know, now.
“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.
… you said that you would write about these people; about the very rich; that you were really not of them but a spy in their country; that you would leave it and write it and for once it would be written by someone who knew what he was writing of. But he would never do it, because each day of not writing, of comfort, of being that which he despised dulled his ability and softened his will to work so that, finally, he did no work at all.
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?
There was so much to write. He had seen the world change … He had been in it and he had watched it and it was his duty to write of it; but now he never would.
But if he lived he would never write about her, he knew that now. Nor about any of them. The rich were dull and … they were repetitious.
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.
Compie turned his head and grinned and pointed and there, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going.