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Oblivion, Remorse, and Spirituality

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--


Oblivion, Remorse, and Spirituality
Vesa Osmani

Engl216: Class of 2020

It has been witnessed many times throughout the novella “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Ernest Hemingway, how the principle character Harry experiences certain dilemmas relating to identity.  Behind this man stood a self-compromising identity whose unconscious desires led to the choices he made in his life. Eventually however, in his last moments of life he finally became aware of the choices he had made; this recognition was accompanied with a huge sense of remorse. As each of us has a past, a present, and possibly a future, Harry too experiences these categories of his life, each of which characterize his journey in some individual form. For example, through Harry’s flashbacks, we witnessed a past of irresponsibility, hedonism, and oblivion (Class notes); through the actual or the present stage of his life we can see the remorse he feels and the burden with which he is overtaken. However, if we were to define Harry of the Future, we would have to explore the concept of his potential afterlife and how his spirit might have evolved throughout that life. After all, his experiences of the past, the insight he gained in his present, and the future he wanted but never had were all instrumental in the creation of Harry’s potential new identity. Because he had changed the way he looked at his life and reflected upon the events that had taken place, it can be demonstrated that this self-awareness of the mistakes he has made was his starting point towards a new self or new identity. To clarify, I will argue that there are three Harryies: the past, the present, and the future Harry. I will structure this analysis along a temporal structure—past, present, future.

Harry’s past revolves around terrifying experiences. The snowy settings in which these terrifying scenarios occured were a delineation of struggle and death, and Harry witnessed them all. Some of the tragedies included the refugees killed in the mountains of Bulgaffa, the particular gambling night when a comrade of Harry, Herr Lentz, blew his brains out, and the murder of the Austrians he used to ski with. However, even though he witnessed all of them and intended to write about them, he never did. “He had been in it and he watched it and it was his duty to write of it; but now he never would” (Hemingway 9). The irony of his failure to write about such issues stands in the fact that throughout that wartime and beyond, he identified himself as a writer. It was his duty to write about those events. Who would give insight to the unfortunate and terrifying events of that kind other than writers like him? It was his moral duty to be a source that gave the events he witnessed exposure to the public; if there is no proof that those events happened, then those events are essentially non-existent. It was a moral duty to those victims that now would never get the chance to be acknowledged. It was an issue about what was the right thing to do. Nevertheless, he never wrote about them.

Harry also failed to complete his own ethical duties when it came to what he did with the experiences he went through and was supposed to write about. For instance, the rich people he associated with were a category he despised; even his wife represented a sheltered caricature of a despised class (Class notes). He truly believed that wealth insulated them as a class. They were a source he was supposed to use for his writing and potential class critique. He pretended to be friends with this category of people so he could write something organic and original as an insider of what really goes on inside their lives.  Harry sacrificed a life of inauthenticity in order to write authentically. That was until he gave into the comfort that that life was offering. He gave into that security and became oblivious, neglecting  his own ethical duty, what his own authentic self had set for him to accomplish. Ironically, it was Harry who became wealth-insulated. Unfortunately, his negligence was to have consequences on how he would be feeling in his last moments of life.

Harry of the present—the dying Harry—is going through his own crisis, his real hardship. It is not so much about the physical condition since the agony from the pain of the leg injury had passed. Rather, it is about the deep emotional and psychological restlessness he is feeling. The dilemmas through which he is going during his last moments were a product of his negligence on the ethical and moral duty that he had failed to fulfill; he never wrote about what he had witnessed. Now all of his memories are ending with a bitter outcome of his experiences: the responsibilities he has had towards himself as a writer, and towards the victims who were killed in snowy settings as an exposé that would contribute to the awareness of them. He is finally getting out of the oblivion he has lived in. He is becoming authentic again. Finally, he starts by being authentic to his wife about his true feelings towards her, his love for her money and for the lifestyle she provided him. “You rich bitch” (Hemingway 5). Harry almost felt hatred towards Helen¬—the vulnerable woman who had loved him, but according to Harry, she destroyed his talent.

Most importantly, however, he becomes authentic to his own self. He becomes authentic enough to realize that it was not Helen who had destroyed his talent; he admits to himself that he was the one who destroyed his talent. “Why should he blame this woman because she kept him well? He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and by prejudice, by hook and by crook”(Hemingway 6). At least now, he is fully conscious and self-aware. Unfortunately, the restlessness over the fact that he did not do the right thing with his life still remains in his soul.

The issue regarding the soul’s existence is timeless. One of the most famous philosophers, Descartes, argues that if we are thinking, it means that we are alive “I think, therefore I am” (Descartes 19-20). Therefore, if we are capable of thinking, and in our case, thinking about existence, we already exist, our soul exists. Religiously, the idea of the soul is that it either goes to heaven or hell, and eventually becomes the most ideal form it can possibly be, which means it evolves to spiritual perfection. There are many theories that the soul infinitely reincarnates to perfect itself; however, we can undoubtedly observe the common denominator of all the theories that exist about spirituality—the concept of purging the soul from the negativity it has been through during one’s life. We can allege that perhaps Harry was going through that purge during his emotional struggle before death. The burden that he was carrying was a heavy one for a dying individual.

As authors such as Augustine and Ibn Sina unfold the issue of the soul, they specifically discuss the human soul's knowledge of itself (Matthews 7).  Aside from the metaphysical ideas of the spiritual issue, it is demonstrated through imaginative creation that the soul has its own individual essence. Since it does possess individuality, it should be considered as its own body with its own attributes: beliefs, morals, desires and such; however, before proceeding with the discussion of the soul being aware of itself, the debate between the two theorists starts with the notion of self-knowledge.

We mentioned some of the many attributes that each individual soul possesses. We could say that Harry’s tendencies to act hedonistically, for example, are a form of irresponsibility, but we cannot say that those tendencies are not simply human nature, for instance, to pursue happiness.  The important point however is being conscious about those feelings in order to be able to work on being a better soul, or to evolve. Harry is already a soul full of self-knowledge since he regained the sense of his authentic self during his dilemmas. Therefore, he has the needed base in order to evolve.


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