It is not the nature of his death that concerns him now, but simply the fact that he has run out of time. He is unsatisfied with his life, having never written about his many experiences. The indecisive wording of his reflections, meanwhile, suggests he never had a serious push to consciously consider why he was not writing earlier, and betray a nagging fear that his procrastination may really have been a guise for a lack of talent. These new, incomplete lines of thinking crop up when death is closer than ever, leaving this question of why he has failed in his calling without a satisfactory answer.
Download it! She had loved it, she says, but not this trip, now his leg is injured. Her protestation that she has shared her life and wealth with him contrasts her generosity with his petulance, characterizing him as a spoiled child. This also shows they have lived a life of comfort in Europe, placing them high on the social hierarchy.
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Comfort vs Calling. He replies he has never loved her. The strange, strained relationship between Harry and Helen plays out as he goads her, mocking her rhetorical question with direct answers. Helen comes across in this exchange as a sensible and clear-headed woman who loves her husband.
In a stream-of-consciousness flashback, Harry remembers leaving Thrace on the Simplon-Orient railway from Karagatch after a retreat on the front during World War I, and hearing Nansen misjudging the mountain snows in Bulgaria, leading to the deaths of those he ordered to cross it. On another Christmas day, in Schrunz, the snow was blinding as he looked out from the inn, as memories of skiing and gambling in Europe come flooding back to him.
Herr Lent lost everything gambling the week they were snow-bound in the Madlener-haus. But Harry had never written about any of that. In the first of many series of flashbacks, Harry recalls memories relating to his experiences around World War I, which took place from Thrace is an area in Europe that is now spilt between Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. After the war and the changing of borders as agreed upon in the Armistice, Fridtjof Nansen was a key figure in the movement of peoples across these new borders.
Harry overheard his fateful miscalculation of the safety of the mountain passage while riding the Orient Express, a glamorous railway that traveled across Europe, showing he lived in close proximity to key decision-makers at the time. The Gauertal valley lies in Austria, where the war still loomed over Harry's life, as a deserting soldier wanders across his peaceful mountainside hermitage.
Harry speaks with familiarity of Schrunz, in the tiny European principality of Liechtenstein, and the variety of his travels demonstrate his diverse life experiences—experiences that Harry never got around to writing about.
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He had talked with Hans about the various battles they had both witnessed when they hunted hares together, but Harry had never written a word about that either. These recollections reveal that Harry saw many terrible events during his time at the front, which blurred the idea of right and wrong—a phenomenon that strongly influenced the Modernist movement in art and literature. The stark contrast shows how on the one hand Harry had the worst experiences of his life in Europe, but one the other he also had some of his best. To him, these are all worth writing about—the pain alongside the joy.
Again, though, he never wrote about any of it. Coming back into focus on the present, Harry asks Helen where they had always stayed in Paris, bickering over the details. She points out they liked to do many things together, and he tells her to stop bragging. Fresh from mulling over the blurred lines between good and evil, right and wrong, Harry questions the nature of love. He suggests lovers are merely performers—an insight into his own mercenary approach to romance.
Helen reminds him of her feelings by once again trying to bring him back to reason. Turning the argument back to her money via a tenuous link, Harry shows he is only concerned with licking his own wounds. They cannot make love to pass the time, so he chooses to quarrel instead. His selfish approach evidences his dismissive view of the other sex.
Helen cries. Harry does not love his wife but has used her for her money. The social norms of the time stipulated Harry ought to provide for his wife, but the opposite is true in this relationship. This causes him embarrassment, which he deflects into contempt directed at Helen, whom he characterizes as the source of his shame.
The strength of his cruelty to Helen reflects the depth of his inner anguish at his inability to provide for himself. Gender roles and expectations were restrictive and inflexible, causing pain where there could be love.
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Helen, a good woman, loves and cares for her husband, but he cannot accept and reciprocate her love freely due to his sense of financial—and, as such, masculine—inadequacy. 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. He had seen himself as a spy in the midst of high society, but he had discovered there was nothing he wanted to write about any of these rich people.
They were dull and living among them had dulled his ability and willingness to write. The fact that more birds gather and Harry unwittingly falls asleep bodes ill.
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Death lingers on the edges of the narrative. She remains a positive figure—optimistic, pragmatic, and independent. Here Hemingway presents Harry as an emasculated figure, as he disdains himself for his leech-like lifestyle. High society provides no writing prompts, and worse yet, has attacked his drive to write at all. Comfort has undermined his calling, while hardship had fostered it. Harry had come to Africa, where he had the best and happiest times of his life, to escape from that inertia, to try to work, like fighters who go to the mountains to train.
He destroyed his talent himself, by betraying himself, drinking too much, and by trading his talent. Yet he was never satisfied. But he would never write that now, though it was well worth writing. Hemingway sets high standards for men of talent, condemning Harry for wasting his; talent is something to be deployed purposefully and meaningfully, not traded for prosperity.
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Harry speaks mockingly of his relationships with a series of rich women, and his scorn reveals both the transactional view he takes of the, and, on a deeper level, his disgust at this mercenary approach. Harry sees Helen heading back to the camp with a ram she has shot. Harry looks at her with admiration as a good shooter, lover, and drinker. He recalls her past, how her husband had died, and she had sought solace in alcohol and men. Later, one of her two children died, and she had to make a new life for herself, as she was frightened of being alone.
He is as happy to have her for a partner as anyone else, though this new life was now ending because he had not properly treated his thorn scratch while trying, and failing, to photograph waterbuck. Giving Helen a more detailed background, Hemingway paints her as a well-rounded character with her own motivations and interests.
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Harry, meanwhile, depended on others to provide a life of comfort, aiming simply to pass the time. Helen and her money have been simply vehicles to aid that transition. Helen arrives back in camp, saying she has killed the ram to make a broth for Harry , and asks how he is. Harry claims not to remember what he said.
Helen is sure the plane will come tomorrow, and says the boys have everything ready for its arrival.
Having settled on blaming himself for his own inadequacies, Harry can now treat Helen with the courtesy she has shown she deserves. Despite his treatment of her earlier, she still seeks to care and provide for him, hunting meat for a broth to strengthen him and voicing both concern and optimism. Harry suggests they have a drink. Night falls as they do so, and a hyena passes beyond the edges of the camp. In the evening calm, with camp activity taking place around them, and no pain except for the discomfort of lying in the same place, Harry regrets his earlier injustice to Helen, who has been kind to him.