Kayode G. Kofoworola
Ernest Hemingway is much more famously known for his novel, Farewell to Arms, which coincidentally has been a set-book for studies in literature in many schools across the world, West Africa inclusive. However, very little attention has been paid until recently to his stories written about or on Africa which were a product of his first African safari. Kelli Larson in fact asserts that: “Although the African works in general have not garnered the critical attention of such mainstays as The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms, they continue to hold their own in the critical stakes, and their underexposure to various theoretical lenses promises exciting new developments for future studies”(2011: 323). Without doubt Hemingway was so enthralled by Africa; that he wrote in “True at First Light”; “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.” The product of this enthrallment is the production of two short stories and a novel: The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber and his 1935 novel “The Green Hills of Africa.”
Key words: Hemimgway, Africa, flora, fauna, African safari
itself primarily with the novel,
the Green Hills of Africa and
story, The Snows of Kilimanjaro
for they provide a unique insight not only into writings by
Hemingway himself but also insight into
life, and about his views of Africa. True at First Light published Posthumously
after Hemingway’s death by
excluded from this
discourse since this paper agrees
latent criticism “that the
up to the standards of the
writing published during Hemingway’s life, that it was
unfinished and never good enough to
Basically the question: “ what does Safari really mean?’, is thus crucial to a comprehension of the perception and dimension of Hemingway’s understanding of it which greatly influenced how and why he wrote about it . Safari’ is the one word that is believed to have entered the dictionary of the English language through its uninhibited use by the great Ernest Hemingway. It is in this single, all evoking and most consummate Swahili word, that Ernest Hemingway’s passion for and enthrallment by the African wild is epitomized.
Inspite of the many dangers he faced and sometimes colossal damage to his health due to diseases he contracted such as amoebic dysentery or accidents he had, such as the plane crash of
1954, while flying over Uganda; Hemingway continually returned to the continent of Africa from 1933 (the year of his first visit) till around 1954 when his health deteriorated before he eventually shot himself dead in 1961. Hemingway’s heart was so thoroughly captured by the Flora and Fauna of Africa that it survived four marriages and several up-and-down periods of his chequered career.
In these two literary works, Green Hills of Africa and the Snow hills of Kilimanjaro, left behind by Hemingway is his legacy of what Africa meant to him and what it could mean to the world. More than most American writers certainly, Hemingway’s contact with Africa’s flora and fauna is more close–up, personal and highly experiential. He knew, understood, and loved the African wild like most ordinary Africans would do. In Hemingway’s African stories, which are products of his visits, he allows his readers to experience a freedom of the mind and spirit that the whole paraphernalia of advanced western culture seemed to have robbed him, which incidentally is still robbing the world. A thorough examination of these Hemingway’s African texts will reveal that Hemingway wrote not just about the flora and fauna that he found but also about his involvement. His African stories can be described as “faction” or factfiction.” Thus, his stories though written with fictional characters at the same time tell the story of the writer himself.
is quite ironic that during Hemingway’s life time, his short stories about his African
much more acclaim than his novel The Green
Hills of Africa. This was
probably due to the fact that
time, the short stories were
as much more accessible than the novel. However Bredahl
(1990:202) argue for the richness
of this largely unread and misunderstood work which at previous ‘close readings’ has been critiqued as “relatively meaningless” and “trivial” or as “a disappointment”, but which Hemingway thought contained some of his best work. Reviewers of the period when Hemingway wrote his books, such as De Voto (1935) obviously did not agree that The Green Hills of Africa was important when he asserts that:
Green Hills of Africa cannot compete with his work of the imagination. It is not exactly a poor book, but it is certainly far from a good one. The trouble is that it has few fine and extraordinary passages, and long parts of it are dull. And being bored by Ernest Hemingway is a new experience for readers and reviewer’s alike. The queer thing is that this novelty springs from the same intense literary self -consciousness that has been a large part of the effectiveness of his books up till now. he kills this one by being too assiduously an experimental artist in prose, out to register sensation and find the right words for the country side and activity and emotion , and , by way of the bush and the camp fires and the rhinocerous dung , carry his prose to the fourth and fifth dimension that can be gotten . He has reverted to his café’-table talk days, he is being arty, and Africa isn’t a good place for it.
Summarizing the text as “an unimportant book”, he concludes:
A pretty small book for a big man to write. One hopes that
this is just the valley and that something the size of ‘Death in the
Afternoon” is on the other side
Probably one of the greatest tragedy of the expletives and criticisms poured out on Green Hills
upon its publication can be
found in the ignorance at
of many western critics
about Africa, its beauty
world; that Africa is and was
where everything seemed to happen
slow motion, is without doubt. These critics did not take into consideration the efforts
continent through his depiction of
the moderate tempo of the flora
fauna. This probably accounts for
of dullness labeled against the text.
That Africans unlike those in the west were completely sold out to and dependent on nature is without doubt. Unlike people in Africa, however, nature (especially natures of distant lands) is something many people in the West do not find worthy of being a subject for literary discourse with so many social issues requiring attention. Granville Hicks suggests this when he says “after a good deal of thinking about why the book is dull, the only reason I can see is its subject- matter…” (32)
It is precisely what this early critics consider the weakness of Green Hills of Africa that this papers now considers its strength. It then follows that the book would require a measure of deep intellectual introspection to be comprehensible, an assignment or task that many early critics were unprepared to undertake. Wilson (1935) submits that:
one of the things which strikes us most and which depresses us as we read Green Hills of Africa is the apparent drying up in Hemingway of his interest in his fellow human beings. Animals can be made extremely interesting: but the animals in this book are not interesting. Almost the only thing we hear about them is that Hemingway wants to kill them. (41)
However, Wilson misses the apparent fact that the novel is not just about the animals; it is about the relationship between the animals in their natural habitat, having the flora as food and trying to avoid becoming food for man. The story is basically about the relationship between man and nature, how man changes nature by damaging it and how nature adapts to man.
Perhaps at this juncture one would wish to agree with these critics that Hemingway sort of fails to translate his enthusiasm for the flora and fauna of the African continent into a more invitingly- attention-holding-text, which would have graciously completed his environmental endeavour. What this implies is that many critics agree that the work has been misunderstood but many are also in agreement that this particular text – The Green Hills of Africa must be re-appraised. It is very important to state early enough that this re-appraisal can only be properly done if it is carried out examining the strong points and the weakness of each section of the text side by side or against the background of what obtains in the African wild in actual reality.
hunting big game animals (like
his stories with the images of
exotic animals such as Lion
Antelope and Zebra, he also
filled his stories with the primal thrill he experienced during hunting expeditions in the African
savannah and landscape. In “Green Hills of Africa,” especially, Hemingway explores the dynamics of the relationship between the hunter and the hunted as a paradigm of the relationship that exists, even though at a higher and more subtle level, between humans in normal society. Every hunter seeks a prey, and the interval between the periods of waiting for the prey to appear and launching at the prey could be the most excruciatingly painful of periods. There is also the empathy which the hunter shares with the hunted. Nowhere else in the world, Hemingway seems to surmise from his writings, can and is this lesson better learnt than in the wild of Africa , where continual survival and the need to maintain a curiously high instinct in that regard is of paramount importance .
Why did Hemingway love Africa or did he? Or was Africa just an outpost for the expression of a bestial nature that the western world provides little room for nor was willing to encourage? Some critics such as Nadine Gordimer (Goldberg :1999) asserts that rather than celebrate Hemingway perhaps we should as Africans really vilify him as the western media has done especially in their assessment of his book The Green Hills of Africa. We are not in a position in this paper to enter into such a judgmental mode and would leave this to the assessment of others.
Animals are hunted throughout the world. In North America, animals such as deer, elk, bear, pronghorn, caribou, rabbit, squirrel, duck, goose, pheasant, and wild turkey can be found in sufficient huntable numbers. Among the animals hunted in Asia are elephant, tiger, wild sheep, deer, bear, rabbit, waterfowl, and pheasant. African safari-hunting offers opportunity to bag a diversity of game: Cape buffalo, elephant, lion, antelope, and duck and other wild fowl. European hunters generally go out for wild boar, fox, red stag, rabbit, and various game birds. For instance, Jaguar, peccary, deer, duck, dove, and turkey are popular quarry in Central and South America. This implies that it couldn’t simply have been just the need to hunt that motivated Hemingway’s visits to and portrayals of Africa in his stories, but rather a connection, perhaps in a spiritual sense to the essence and beauty of a continent long forgotten and neglected by the rest of the civilized world.
more than any other fictional or non–fictional text in American literary canon we are
espoused to a flurry
fauna in the African landscape:
as the kudu bull and cows, guineas, hyena, lion, rhino, green-wood pigeons, monkeys, buffalo etc. Anthony Burgess (1999) in giving us a picture of what transpires in Pauline’s (Hemingway’s third wife referred to by the natives as Mama piga Simba) involvement in the hunt in Green Hills of Africa says “Pauline was the right sort of wife to have, for she was very willing to go with him to Africa, there to shoot at wild beasts” (52). An index of Hemingway’s enthrallment with Africa’s game and hunting made him a queer person and even seemed to have been one of the reasons for his rather unstable marriages and family life, Burgesses’ accounts seem to suggest.
There is a sense in which Africa meant for Hemingway the perfect ground for the expression of man’s supremacy and superiority over nature especially animals. Thus Hemingway’s naming of all the animals he saw, hunted or wanted to hunt is a very significant dimension to his writing. Through this means, Hemingway embarks on species and animal type identification and inadvertently adds to the stock of knowledge about the animals / fauna that exists in the African wild. Animals such as Leopards, tickbirds, deers, tse-tse flies, elks, elephants, zebras, gazelles, ducks, ibises, geeses, flamingoes, antelopes, Oryx, impala, eland are mentioned quite often in the texts. This specie identification is meant both as a hunter’s manual information and as a means of documenting the importance of these fauna. The importance of the flora lay in its significance as a provider of the terrain in which the hunt takes place. The type of flora determines to a large extent the type of game that would be present or available for the hunt.
(1987) have said that the
attraction of Africa for Hemingway is simply that it provides him with a place to kill,
would wish to argue that Hemingway,
clearly shown in The Green
Hills of Africa, was probably
understanding that for Africa, the capacity
ecosystem requires that certain animals
be culled from time to time.
being that once there are
for them to eat,
there would be an eco–imbalance.
Hemingway’s insistence that the killing
of some of these animals is necessary to maintain a balance in the ecosystem (Sean
One question that sometimes
bounces through the mind, sometimes most
uncomfortably is – could
Hemingway then be regarded as
a sadist. And was that why
critics decided to ‘kill’ The Green
Hills of Africa? Perhaps,
because it was in all proportions
non-stereotypical, a novel about big game hunting which eventually
becomes an avenue for the expression of misogynist feelings or even racism that eventually colour the novel.
In Hemingway’s safari stories, especially The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber and The Snows of Kilimanjaro, primitive nature accentuates the proximity of death cutting through in the process the pretenses and lies of civilized life, thus forcing men to confront the truth about themselves – especially about their generally unmanly response to women. Harry in The Snows of Kilimanjaro finally absolves his wife of blame for his failure in life as he lay dying when he
She shot very well this good, this rich bitch, this kindly caretaker and destroyer of his talent. Nonsense. He had destroyed his talent himself. Why should he blame this woman because she kept him well? (42)
Or as we find in this exchange between Macomber and Margot in The Short happy Life of
“there wasn’t going to be any of that. You promised there wouldn’t be.” “Well, there is now,” she said sweetly.
“You said if we made this trip that there would be none of that. You promised.” “Yes, darling. That’s the way I meant it to be. But the trip was spoiled yesterday. We don’t have to talk about it, do we?” (37)
In Hemingway’s African stories, man comes to terms with his mortality and the mortality of all men through his presentation of the hunt. The death of the prey pre-figures the death of man. The emptiness that man goes through forces the question that lies deep within the heart of each man; what does life mean? Just as the animals are prey for the hunters, so is man a prey to death from which there is no escape.
reference to one of the trackers with him as having “a bald black skull and Chinese hairs” (1) in Green
Hills of Africa is an attempt to fuse Africa with Asia from a dimension and perspective of two continents which as at that time were undergoing various
levels of development and growth. Why one
would wonder why Hemingway did
the bald black
skull with an European setting; whether this statement by Hemingway serves
derogatory or patronizing purposes is better left to individual assessments.
Indeed, Whitley in
Race and Modernity asserts that “Hemingway like Roosevelt exhibited feelings of white superiority in their treatment of African primitivism and suggests that their views of Africa is imperialistic and represents a time of ‘escape from modernity” (18) especially European.
The use of the word lesser and greater in the description of certain species of animal for example the Kudu* is very significant to our grasp of Hemingway’s romance with the African flora and fauna. The use of these two words underlines Hemingway’s quantification of what would amount to a hunting achievement in the fauna of Africa. If he got the greater Kudu for instance, it was more of an achievement than if he had shot the lesser Kudu. Through the use of words such as lesser and greater, Hemingway also greatly attempts a distinguishing of the African wild game and its hunt.
Giving us a peep into the state of his mind on one of his safari’s to Africa, Hemingway in Green Hills of Africa says “feeling the cool wind of the night and smelling the good smell of Africa, I was altogether happy”(6). The use of the word ‘good’ presupposes or even assumes that there is a part of the continent that is off-course bad, and it suggests that it is in an attempt to avoid this aspect of the continent which Hemingway considered as the ‘bad ‘ part, that he refrains from describing or interacting so much with the locals or with even developing in his text any major character with an African background in especially in the Green Hills of Africa.
However, while it seems to be great to focus on the flora and fauna of the African continent, the exclusion of the people of the flora and the fauna is a weakening factor for these books. This might not have been so if Hemingway had captured the essence of the African man which most critics did not seem to be aware of; and that is that basically, the black African is a communal being, rarely acting alone and that his possession of an individual nature or individuality does not in any way give him room to promote himself or herself entirely above the community. Hemingway reflects little on this understanding by focusing on the actions of his characters rather than on their persons.
begging for answers was whether
Hemingway was a racist or whether
point or the other in
campaign, Hemingway manifested any form
of racism or encouraged it. Tyler Lisa’s speculation on the extent of Hemingway’s racism as evidenced in his stereotypical depictions of the native Africans and his changed attitudes towards race in his later novels ( Larson: 359), where he is clearly more sensitive to race issues, only adds to, rather than put this controversy to rest. Perhaps these racist accusations might have been occasioned by Hemingway’s goal to create a literary landscape that defined the pattern of a month’s action—captured in an artistic manner with only brief glimpses of Africa’s native inhabitants.
In the Green Hills of Africa the constraints of time is also given adequate consideration. In Africa the greatest constraint to game hunting is time. Game does not make itself unnecessarily vulnerable to and for hunting. It is this extrapolation of time that limits the extrapolation of sadistic tendencies that could generate statements such as this:
He made a beautiful shot on that leopard, you know.
you don’t want them killed any cleaner than that. Let it quiet down again. (108)
The metaphor of the hunter and the hunted is thus pre-delineated in a transverse relationship and is firmly established in Gren Hills of Africa. In a sense, we all, Hemingway seems to be saying are “game” hunting “game.” Green Hills of Africa unlike The Snows of Kilimanjaro is a reflective text. The African landscape in Green Hills of Africa thus becomes a basic tool for deconstructing the American literary landscape. It is through this text more than any other that we see Hemingway attempt a placement or a de-canonization of certain writers such as Rilke; Joyce; Heinrich Mann; and of certain works such as Ulysses as well as the elevation and validation of others such as Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Henry James The Ambassadors.
It is quite relevant
out here the importance
Hemingway as a
contribution to our unravelling
of the Green
Hills of Africa. His assertion
that the synergy
between hunting and writing
might be one of the
things that Hemingway attempts to
accomplish in prose style
bizarre but literarily relevant.
This is the point that Hays attempts
further insinuates that the book
garrulous and vapid. And controversially bizarre in its prose we get the sense of his criticism and perhaps do not really get the sense or the point of the connection which he has forged between two arts: the art of writing and the art of hunting. (32)
Bredahl seems to explain the same point but couched in a different language, when he says that Green Hills “results from the effort to push beyond the strictly mental in order to ask about an individual’s creative energy in relation to those same energies in its environment.” He also reads the narrative as the narrator’s journey toward “physical and creative health” and places Green Hills within its own genre since it defies the traditional categories of fiction and autobiography (20). But in contrast to Bredahl one would wish to say that what Hemingway seems to have attempted to do was to determine how much of an individual’s creative energy has the latitude to find expression within the space provided by an environment policed by the energies of nature.
Gajdusek (28-29) in his article traces the elaborate pattern of Christian references and allusions that underlie the hunt throughout the book. For example, Gajdusek attempts to equate the taking of the heavy heads back to camp by the old man, M’Cola, and Hemingway as a parody of Calvary, with each of the men representing a surrogate Christ and contended that in the book a new type of religion, founded on brotherhood and bonding with nature, must replace conventional Biblical authority, and that it is a grave and dangerous attempt to read into the text rather than read through the text. That Hemingway sets out to encourage a bonding with nature by writing a book that can be classified only by itself as fiction and/ as autobiography, is without doubt. What is however doubtful is whether Hemingway ever sought even in the least to equate himself with the Christ figure. That he made allusions to and references to Christianity would doubtless be because that was the repertoire of traditions and perspectives to which he was aware and exposed. Moreover it is evident that the parallelism is quite weak and probably not plausible. What can be said to be clear from these texts is that life involves sacrifices and each individual must make his to find his or her own salvation.
fitting to say that Life
about happy endings, even when
the short happy life
Macomber. Infact the paradox of
clearly points to this. That sense
not for the victim of life but for those his loved ones who had to sit around and watch him go. This is probably why Missent concludes that Hemingway’s narrative strategies defy all attempts to bring a satisfactory resolution to the ambiguous ending (197).
In two separate articles, Putnam comments on the pastoral vision in Green Hills of Africa and suggests that there is a loss of the pastoral experience and the pastoral, visionary landscape. This loss of experience according to Putnam is due to the manifest urgency of the hunt. However put, it bares reminding also, that it is the hunt that ultimately provides the basis for the final catharsis of the text; what she calls in “memory grief and the terrain of desire” the “tragic search for redemption” (99). The apparent conflicts in the mind of the writer of the Green Hills of Africa is played out in nature and manifest in the relationship of the fauna to the flora and in the relationship of man to both the flora and the fauna. The green vegetation and savannah grasslands provide for the animals all the luxuriant “meat” for their daily sustenance and increase in numbers.
Strychacz Thomas argues that in Green Hills “metaphors of food and corresponding processes of digestion and excretion articulate Hemingway’s fears about irresponsible and wasteful consumption.” He further argues that “scholars should in fact be reading Hemingway’s prose on Africa as a rhetorical performance in light of the novel’s basic themes of exploitation and consumption” (39). Basically the fauna exploits the flora, and man exploits the fauna. His levels of exploitation due to consumption is played out amongst human’s as well; the weak being exploited by the strong. The manifestation of this level in nature is an anti–thesis to its manifestation among men. This paper will certainly agree with Thomas when he queries the lamentations of earlier critics about/on the rhetorical excesses of The Green Hills of Africa and agree with him more importantly about the need to take another look at Hemingway’s rhetorical strategies in Green Hills and how it could function as a tool for the re-evaluation of the nature of waste itself.
provides much more than that,
provides animals with the atmosphere
to be protected. In feeding the
animals nature becomes the primary
source of living existence, man
the secondary source and
tertiary source of life. This
three form a chain that
just the continuity of the flora and the fauna but also of man himself. Hemingway’s ability to figure this out at the time he did is perhaps significant in several ways. One, through his narrative we understand that eco-balance can only be achieved by two dual levels of the hunt; the first has to do with animals hunting animals, which is not emphasized much in the text, while the second has to do with man hunting animals and animals hunting man, and at the second level the former much more the case than the latter. Consequently, Mandel echoes Voeller’s “He Only Looked Sad the Same Way I Felt” when she suggests that there is a “natural connection and sameness between human and animal,” reflected in Hemingway’s compassionate treatment of animals he hunts which enables us trace Hemingway’s evolving attitudes toward trophy-hunting in Green Hills of Africa, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber: An African Story,” and True at First Light.
That there is constantly something more triumphant than a trophy, than what we already possess speaks about the essence of manhood being not the ability of physical performance alone but rather the innate latent capacity for expressing his individuality. Thus in “reconsidering Hemingway’s primitivism” to borrow the phrase from Glen A. Love, in Green Hills of Africa we can safely describe it as a concerted, rigorous battle against the natural environment for which he has a deep-seated soulish attachment and his own mortality. If animals are hunted not for food, then apparently it is a pointer to man’s wasteful disposition towards nature. And in thus doing presents man as the real predator to man’s continued existence with and in natures’ God given environment.
accusation that Hemingway
ignores the African character
completely in some quarters
or that he gives it insufficient attention in others is simply
critics seem to fail to understand
African stories, especially the Green Hills
of Africa. Hemingway’s failure to validate western perception of the African personality perhaps also
accounts for the rejection
Hills of Africa as lacking
verisimilitude. However Jordan,
Edwina contends in her
“Early 20th Century Writers
descriptions of the Kikuyu people dispel
image of the noble African
Africa’s flora and fauna occupy a critical place in Hemingway’s literary and critical journey. Through it, he contextualizes his own personal struggles and man’s struggle for survival in general. Against a background of negative press, his stories on Africa have resurged and thus deserve the critical attention which this paper has offered. This paper thus creates an opportunity against the back drop of his engagement with Africa’s flora and fauna for a more sympathetic consideration of Hemingway’s depiction of Africa and Africans considering the circumstances and the period under which Hemingway wrote. Other questions for which answers might be sought in future essays would include whether or not his enthrallment with Africa eventually had something to do with why he eventually took his own life; whether indeed Africa was the cause dejure for his death.
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