- The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber
"The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" is a
short storyby Ernest Hemingway. Set in Africa, it was published in 1936 concurrently with " The Snows of Kilimanjaro."
It was filmed in 1947 as "The Macomber Affair", starring
Gregory Peckand Joan Bennett. [imdb title|id=0039591|title=The Macomber Affair]
As the story opens, Francis Macomber and his wife Margaret (usually referred to as 'Margot'), are being guided on a big-game hunt by professional hunter Robert Wilson. We learn that earlier in the day Francis had panicked and, in his own words, "bolted like a rabbit" when a wounded lion charged him. Margot mocks Macomber for this act of cowardice, and that night she sleeps with Wilson. The next day the party chase down three buffalo, and Macomber joins Wilson in killing two of them. Exhilarated by the hunt, Macomber feels transformed and no longer afraid. "You know I don’t think I’d ever be afraid of anything again," he says. It is soon learned that the third buffalo was only wounded and has gone into the bush. Wilson and Macomber will have to track and kill the wounded animal, reproducing the dangerous circumstances of the previous day's lion hunt. Still Macomber feels unafraid, and when the buffalo charges him he stands his ground and fires at it, "shooting a touch high each time and hitting the heavy horns, splintering and chipping them like hitting a slate roof". Margot grabs a gun, ostensibly to stop the still-charging buffalo, but her shot hits Macomber, killing him. Though Wilson says he will report Macomber's death as accidental, it is unclear whether Margot shot her husband on purpose or by accident.
An important passage in the story occurs in the moments just before Francis and Robert Wilson go into the bush after the buffalo.
"You've gotten awfully brave, awfully suddenly," his wife said contemptuously, but her contempt was not secure. She was very afraid of something. Macomber laughed, a very natural hearty laugh. "You know I have ," he said. "I really have." "Isn't it sort of late?" Margot said bitterly. Because she had done the best she could for many years back and the way they were together now was no one person's fault. "Not for me," said Macomber.From this dialogue, the reader sees that Margot has lost her edge in the relationship. She is no longer in charge and deeply resents Macomber's new-found courage.
"The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" has been acclaimed as one of Hemingway's most successful artistic achievements.Citation
last = Morgan
first = Kathleen
last2 = Losada
first2 = Luis A
title = Tracking the Wounded Buffalo; Authorial Knowledge and the Shooting of Francis Macomber
journal = The Hemingway Review
volume = XI
issue = 1
pages = pp 25-28
date = Fall, 1991 ] This is largely due to the ambiguous complexity of its characters and their motivations, and the debate this ambiguity has generated. The most prominent source of debate, of course, is whether Margot's shooting of her husband was deliberate, accidental, or some combination of the two. In the estimation of critic Kenneth G. Johnston, "the prevailing critical view is that she deliberately—or at best, 'accidentally on purpose'—murdered him",Citation
last = Johnston
first = Kenneth G.
title = In Defense of the Unhappy Margot Macomber
journal = The Hemingway Review
volume = II
issue = 2
pages = pp 44-7
date = Spring, 1983 ] but there are many, including Johnston himself, who hold the opposite view.
Carlos Bakercalls Margot Macomber "easily the most unscrupulous of Hemingway's fictional females"; a woman "who is really and literally deadly" and who "covets her husband's money but values even more her power over him." [Citation
last = Baker
first = Carlos
author-link = Carlos Baker
title = Hemingway, the Writer as Artist
publisher = Princeton University Press
year = 1972
pages = pp 187 & 110
isbn = 0691013055] Other authors who hold similar views regarding Margot include Philip Young,
Leslie A. Fiedlerand Frank O'Connor(see below).
A related point that has been widely debated is whether Hemingway intended the reader to view Robert Wilson as a heroic figure, embodying Hemingway's ideal of the courageous, hyper-masculine male. Critics who argue for Margot's innocence are especially likely to question this positive view of Wilson. It is through Wilson's words that Margot's intentions are questioned, notably when he asks after the shooting "Why didn't you poison him? That's what they do in England." If Wilson is intended to be the story's voice of morality, then this implied accusation is damning. But if Wilson is a less-perfect character himself, then his judgement of Margot is suspect. Some critics have noted that Wilson chases down the buffalo in a car, violating the law and perhaps also Hemingway's code of fairness in hunting. Kenneth G. Johnston argues that Wilson "has much to gain by making Mrs. Macomber believe that the death of her husband could be construed as murder," since he could lose his license if Margot accurately described Wilson's use of the car in the buffalo hunt.
Frank O'Connor on "The Short Happy Life"
In "The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story," author and literary critic
Frank O'Connor, though generally an admirer of Hemingway, gives one of the most colorful and uncharitable summations of "The Short Happy Life":
Francis runs away from a lion, which is what most sensible men would do if faced by a lion, and his wife promptly cuckolds him with the English manager of their big-game hunting expedition. As we all know, good wives admire nothing in a husband except his capacity to deal with lions, so we can sympathize with the poor woman in her trouble. But next day Macomber, faced with a buffalo, suddenly becomes a man of superb courage, and his wife, recognizing that [...] for the future she must be a virtuous wife, blows his head off. [...] To say that the psychology of this story is childish would be to waste good words. As farce it ranks with "
Ten Nights in a Bar Room" or any other Victorian morality you can think of. Clearly, it is the working out of a personal problem that for the vast majority of men and women has no validity whatever. [cite book
last = O'Connor
authorlink =Frank O'Connor
title =The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story
publisher =World Publishing
pages =pp 168-169
id = ISBN 0060911301 ]
*Francis Macomber - The husband
*Margot "Memsahib" Macomber - Wife of Francis
*Robert Wilson - Professional hunter
* [http://www.geocities.com/cyber_explorer99/hemingwaymacomber.html Full Story Text]
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