Hemingway's the Snows of Kilimanjaro and Tolstoy's the Death of Ivan Ilych: Is Death Really All There Is to Life?

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Is Death Really All There Is To Life?
Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych” both depict middle-aged men faced with a drawn-out death and no rescue from its inevitability. Both men realize that their lives have been wasted and their motives misplaced, which parallel each author’s views of the meaning of life. The difference comes, though, in the final hours of each character’s life. Whereas Harry, the protagonist in Hemingway’s short story, dies with no final redemption and a life full of empty relationships and wasted wealth, Ivan Ilych experiences a conversion after fearing his imminent death and asking himself what the right thing is and tries to apologize and show compassion for his family during his final hours.

In Ernest Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” Harry, a jaded writer on safari with his wealthy wife, is suffering from a gangrenous leg wound and awaiting a rescue plane. As he fruitlessly bickers with his wife, on whom he is financially dependent and expresses a subtle resentment towards, he vacillates between trying to hurt her with his jabs and reassuring her that he does not really mean what he is saying but cannot help saying it because he is dying. As Harry is confronted with the monotony of having to sit and wait to either be rescued or die, he begins to bitterly reflect on his once-promising writing career. He realizes that although he was a good writer, he ironically never wrote. He had planned to translate his numerous experiences into art – the horror of trench warfare during World War I, the stark beauty of his grandfather’s farm, the purity of skiing in the Austrian Alps, the charm and absurdity of bohemian Paris, the torment of first love, and many others – but wistfully recalls that for all his savoring and storing up of ideas, he now will never have the opportunity to share them. He has sacrificed and cheapened his creativity and talent he once treasured for the material...
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