Home:The Short Happy Life Of Francis Macomber


 Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway has created a masterpiece of mystery in
his story "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber". The
mystery does not reveal itself to the reader until the end
of the story, yet it leaves a lot to the imagination. At
the end of the story Margaret Macomber kills her husband by
accident, in order to save him from being mauled by a large
Buffalo while on a safari in Africa. The mystery is whether
or not this killing was truly accidental, or intentional.
If it was to be considered intentional, there would
certainly have to be evidence in the story suggesting such,
with a clear motive as well. What makes this mystery unique
is that Hemingway gives the reader numerous instances that
would lead the reader to devise an acceptable motive, yet
human nature tells the reader that this killing could not
have been intentional. From a purely objective analysis of
the story, the reader would see far more evidence
supporting the theory of an intentional killing rather than
an accidental one.
The clues supporting the idea that Margaret killed Francis
intentionally can best be seen when observing and studying
the background information on both Francis Macomber, and
Margaret herself. The marriage between the two is
summarized in the statement, "Margot was too beautiful for
Macomber to divorce her and Macomber had too much money for
Margot ever to leave him." (Hemingway 1402). Both were
dependent on each other, which is what made the
relationship strong. What is also important is that Margot
and Francis have very different personalities. Margot is a
very controlling person. Her marriage and relationship with
Francis Macomber is dependent on this fact. Margot must
have complete control over her husband in order to keep the
relationship at an equilibrium. Francis needs Margot
because, as Margot herself has accurately observed, he
could not find another wife if Margot were to leave him.
This is clearly seen when the narrator states, "If he had
been better with women she would probably have started to
worry about him getting another new, beautiful wife; but
she knew too much about him to worry about him either."
(Hemingway 1402).
With this small amount of background information, the true
motive for an intentional killing can be found. As Margot
witnesses the elation, bravery, and sudden independence
that Francis Macomber derives from his valiant pursuit and
killing of the buffalo, she witnesses the loss of control
over her husband that is so essential to their
relationship. This can clearly be seen in the conversation
of Francis Macomber after killing the buffalo when he
states, "You know I don't think I'd ever be afraid of
anything again....Something happened in me after we saw the
buff and started after him. Like a dam bursting. It was
pure excitement." (Hemingway 1408). If Francis lost all
fears, as he supposedly does after killing the buffalo,
then there is a great chance that he could afford to loose
Margot. His newfound bravery could be put to use in finding
another wife. This was very disagreeable to Margot, and can
be clearly discerned from her remarks when she replies to
Francis about his performance with the buffalo. Francis ask
her, "Wasn't it marvelous, Margot?' and she replied, 'I
hated it,...I loathed it." (Hemingway 1408). It was at this
point in which Margot saw her control over her husband,
control which had lasted for so many years and was so
essential to the relationship, begin to vanish. Clearly, to
Margot, the relationship as she had known it was about to
come to an end, and she was now on the loosing side. The
equilibrium in the relationship had been destroyed.
Margot's initial reaction to this was very predictable; she
tried to play down the event by stating, "You're both
talking rot...Just because you've chased some helpless
animals in a motor car you talk like heroes." (Hemingway
1409). Robert Wilson, the guide on the hunt, gives the
reader an outside perspective into this complex and
troubled relationship. In response to the quote above
Wilson states, "Sorry....I have been gassing too much." and
following it, "She's worried about it already, he thought."
(Hemingway 1409). Wilson has accurately interpreted the
status of the relationship and it is he who, by the end of
the story, gives the reader more evidence as to the true
motive for Margot killing Francis.
Robert Wilson seems to be right in his descriptions of the
couple, and their relationship throughout the story. If
this is true, and none of his presumptions about the couple
are false, then he gains more credibility towards the end
of the story. It is at this point that he becomes the
advocate of Margot's actions, despite the fact that they
were intentional. It is Wilson that gives the reader the
best description of the relationship between Francis and
his wife. It is his insight into Margot, however, that is
the most detailed, and which seems to suggest that she
might be capable of such an act. Wilson gives the reader a
lucid account of his impression of Margot's reaction to
Francis's cowardice by stating:
 So, Robert Wilson thought to himself, she is giving him a
ride, isn't she? Or do you suppose that's her idea of
putting up a good show? How should a woman act when she
discovers her husband is a bloody coward? She's damned
cruel but they're all cruel. They govern, of course, and to
govern one has to be cruel sometimes. Still, I've seen
enough of their damn terrorism. (Hemingway 1395) 
From this astute analysis of the two, Wilson shows the
reader several very important things. One is the fact,
although somewhat machiavellian, that Margot had the
capability to be cruel as she "governed" over her husband.
Another observation that is somewhat important is the fact
that she is solid in her control over Francis after he
cowers from the lion. Although his cowardice is
embarrassing to her, it still allows her to control her
husband by asserting authority and belittling his actions.
This is the cruelty that Wilson observes in the passage
When Francis is confronted with the same situation in
hunting the buffalo as with hunting the lion, Margot
regains the hope that the new valor of her husband would
fade away. Her elation can be seen when Wilson states that
the buffalo is in the bush and will have to be flushed out
just as the lion had. Margot states, " Then it's going to
be just like the lion,' said Margot, full of anticipation."
(Hemingway 1407). The key word in this quote is
anticipation. She is filled with excitement in the
anticipation that her husband would make a repeat
performance, consequently loosing all of his new courage
and placing her back in control of the relationship. This,
as she would soon see, was not the case.
One of the most important passages in the story occurs in
the moments just before Francis and Robert Wilson go into
the bush after the buffalo. The passage shows exactly how
Francis felt just prior to her killing Francis. In it she
'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. (Hemingway
From this quote, the reader can clearly see that Margot has
lost her edge in the relationship. She is no longer in
charge. She is no longer needed by Francis. Margot is, in
effect, expendable to Francis. Margot knew that she had
been expendable for many years, but it had never been a
great fear because she knew that Francis would never be
able to replace her on his own. He was incapable of the
independence needed to find a new wife. This had all
changed, however, by the end of the story. It had become
clear to Margot that the relationship was over; or it was
from her perspective.
After Margot fires the fatal shot, further evidence is
given by Robert Wilson that supports the assertion that the
killing was intentional. In response to the killing Wilson
states, "That was a pretty thing to do...He would have left
you too" (Hemingway 1411). Wilson, who seems to be accurate
in his assessment of the relationship, seems a credible
witness to the killing and due to these facts, his opinion
as to the motive of the killing is credible to the reader
as well. What is also important after the killing is the
fact that Margot never denies that it was intentional. What
is also ironic is that Wilson has the most control in the
end of the story. This can be seen in the last few lines
when Margot literally has to beg him to stop tormenting her
about killing Francis. When she finally says please, Wilson
agrees to stop.
From all of the evidence given in the story, and from an
objective analysis of the conversation and narration, it is
safe to make the assumption that the killings were indeed
intentional. There is simply not enough tangible evidence
given in the conversation or narration that would suggest
otherwise. There is a clear motive, as well as a credible
witness to the event who feels from his knowledge of the
couple, which is far greater than the limited knowledge of
the relationship the reader is given, that the killing was
intentional. Although by law this assertion would not have
a chance of being proven beyond a reasonable doubt, for the
purposes of analyzing this story it is a safe assertion.

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