These essays emerged from Engl216 as part of a course assignment. As the course revolves around the analytical interface of literature, philosophy, critical thinking, writing, and preliminary research techniques, the assignment required students to demonstrate how deftly they could accomplish this challenging, philosophically-driven task. For these first-semester freshmen students, this was their first experience of, and exposure to, the formal demands of a university-level, academic humanities essay. And they met the challenge head-on: the essays are clever, insightful, and beautifully written. I am impressed.
--Lorraina Pinnell PhD--
A Beautifully Puzzled Life
Engl216: Class of 2020
Are you authentic? If we do not know what authenticity is does it mean that we are inauthentic? Perhaps or perhaps not: In this sense we can say that to be is to know what not to be thereby recognizing that these two concepts are firmly interrelated. Diving into the world of philosophers, facing the waves of their thoughts, trying to become one with them, and finally, though most importantly, trying to think of “me”, as the “I” that I am, was my process in analyzing this beautifully puzzling novella, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway. Though it is hard to bring all the pieces of the story together, once that has been done, or at least very close to completion, it feels like discovering the world’s greatest treasure. Authenticity and its opposite, that is, inauthenticity are prominent themes in the story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and its protagonist’s, Harry’s, unfolding dilemmas. With this in mind I will analyze whether or not Harry has lived an authentic or inauthentic life.
Before I proceed any further, it is important to define first the concepts of authenticity and inauthenticity. By just observing these words we can clearly come to a conclusion that these concepts contradict each other. According to Martin Heidegger, a German philosopher who is acknowledged for his originality, neither authenticity nor inauthenticity is “better” than the other; they are related, adding that inauthenticity is the foundation of authenticity to show up (Higuchi 133). Heidegger explains this by saying “… but the inauthenticity of Dasein does not signify any ‘less’ Being or any ‘lower’ degree of Being” (133). Thus these concepts, according to Heidegger, are equally important as they both belong to Dasein.
Dasein, a German word Heidegger uses, explains Being; in other words, to exist, to be. Furthermore, he states that to be or to exist—Dasein—requires us to question our being, our existence. Thus when we ask ourselves about the meaning of Being, we are pursuing the meaning of authenticity (Golomb 89). Heidegger elaborates that everyone has authenticity; it is merely ‘hidden’ as well as given to us ‘beforehand’. He says that everyone is able to lead an authentic life, but nearly all fail to recognize the Dasein, due to lack of self-awareness. This emerges from the distractions of daily life (86). In brief all of us are able to be authentic, the tricky part, however, is to recognize ourselves.
Another essential point that Heidegger makes is that when one becomes aware of mortality one can be a truly authentic self. As he says: “Only by taking death into ourselves…is an authentic existence possible for us” (Higuchi 134). Except mortality—what might lead someone to authenticity—means confronting an array of anxieties, as Heidegger says: “Anxiety individualizes the Dasein, and thus discloses it as “solus ipse””, meaning that when Dasein faces anxiety it ‘finds itself face-to-face with the ‘nothing’’ (Golomb 105). In addition, anxiety for most of us is generated from painful or disastrous experiences throughout our lives; for instance the loss of someone we love makes us vigilant to examine our life. In Heidegger’s philosophy, awareness of death and encountering any sort of anxiety play a significant role in authenticity since anxiety is connected to Dasein as it faces death (Higuchi 135). According to Heidegger, our everyday life is inauthentic, which is identified by guilt, whereas an authentic life is a peculiar and a special state of self-recognition and self-discovery (131).
To fully understand the analysis of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, in this paragraph I will briefly give a summary of the story. The main character is Harry who is a writer and is married to Helen, although we find out that he does not truly love her. He has led a life of extraordinary experiences: a soldier, a witness to human tragedy, a pleasure-seeker but about which he did not write a single word. In the present time of the story, Harry and his wife are on a trip in Africa where Harry badly injures his leg which will cost him his life. A tragic end for such a man, or maybe not…
Continuing with the analysis of the story, Harry can be treated both as an authentic and inauthentic person. First of all, considering Heidegger’s claims that there is not a complete authentic or inauthentic life but a combination of both, we therefore cannot say that the authentic Harry only lies buried in the memories of his past. In Harry’s flashbacks we see his everyday life. According to Heidegger “… the Self of everyday Dasein is the they-self, which we distinguish from the authentic Self…” (Higuchi 133). This means that everyday events characterize an inauthentic life. Curiosity, ambiguity, and idle-talk are a few characteristics of everyday life, inauthentic life, and throughout Harry’s flashbacks we see that he has always been a curious man. We can particularly detect this when he says: “…the only thing I have never lost is curiosity” (Hemingway 17). Harry in his past is more likely to be an inauthentic person than authentic. Moreover, the following quote demonstrates that Harry in his past leaned more toward inauthenticity: “… he had traded away what remained of his old life” (9). By leaving aside the writing, which gave his life meaning and fulfillment, he had been living a pure inauthentic life.
Secondly, Harry starts becoming aware of his ego when he speaks to himself in the present time. Within his monologues we see that Harry starts realizing what he did not do, writing, and regrets it. This way he starts realizing who he truly is or at least who he was. “I want to write” (Hemingway 12), he said after remembering all the times when he had been a witness of the world changing and yet he did not write about that. These thoughts and feelings made him realize his purpose. Still for him it is too late to fix anything and that becomes clear to him as well. He cannot write anymore. “No, he thought, when everything you do… you do too late, you can’t expect to find the people still there. The people are gone…” (17).
Finally and most importantly, Harry is dying. Facing death he becomes aware that he is left with no option but waiting for the “…scythe and a skull” (18) to come. After all he never believed in such clichéd symbols of death, but gradually he becomes aware that life has its limits and there will not be time left for the postponed tasks, in his case writing. “… he had never written one. Why? –You tell them why” (16). He is scared as well: “Tell it go away” (18). Thus he has become aware of his role in the world; now he can be considered authentic. From this we see that Harry went through a transition process from inauthenticity to authenticity. Nevertheless he did not accomplish his duties to fulfill the authenticity requirements. Ergo, becoming aware of himself and not completing his duties toward writing, Harry is both an authentic an inauthentic human being. Furthermore the complete authentic Harry may be found in his dream, his afterlife. As Heidegger elaborates a compelling closure which states that together with others, one is inauthentic; then one dies alone, becoming authentic (Higuchi 134). Therefore Harry in his after journey, death, to Kilimanjaro, is a complete man, authentic: “… he knew where he was going”(19). Thus he found immortality there, explaining what the leopard, according to a myth (1), was seeking at that high altitude on top of Kilimanjaro.
To conclude, the protagonist of the novella, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway, throughout his life has been both an authentic and inauthentic man due to his experiences, but never one superior to the other. Nonetheless, Harry becomes authentic only when he dies.
Golomb, Jacob. Problems of Modern European Thought: In Search of Authenticity:
Existentialism from Kierkegaard to Camus. Florence, US: Routledge, 2012. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 10 Oct.2016.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Snows of Kilimanjaro. New York, US: Scribner’s Son, 1961. Web. Sep. 2016.
Higuchi, Satoshi. Heidegger’s concept of Authenticity and Sport Experience. Bulletin of the
Faculty of Education, Hiroshima University, Vol.39. Part 2. February 26, 1991. Retrieved from http://ir.lib.hiroshima-u.ac.jp/files/public/BullFacEdu-HiroshimaUniv-Pt2_39_131.pdf. Web. 13 Oct. 2016.