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. (Hemingway 1402). What is also important is that Margot and Francis have very different personalities. This is clearly seen when the narrator states, (Hemingway 1402).  With this small amount of background information, the true motive for an intentional killing can be found. This can clearly be seen in the conversation of Francis Macomber after killing the buffalo when he states, (Hemingway 1408. “(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 Hemingway 1409).  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 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.  *From this astute analysis of the two, Wilson shows the reader several very important things. One is the fact, although somewhat machiavellian, that over her husband. Another observation that I somewhat important is the This is the cruelty that Wilson observes in the passage above. 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. After Margot fires the fatal shot, further evidence is given by Robert Wilson that supports the assertion that the killing was intentional 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.. story.  *From all of the evidence given in the story, and from an objective analysis of the conversation and narration, it is safe to makethe assumption that the killings were indeed intentional. There is simply not enough tangible evidence given in the conversation or narration that would suggest otherwise assertion.

A Character Analysis of Francis Macomber From Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”  In Hemingway’s The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, the author demonstrates his undeniable ability to bring characters to life by introducing the reader in great detail to the main character, Francis Macomber, through varying literary mechanisms. The reader learns immense detail about Francis, as well as the other two primary characters, Margaret and Mr.Wilson, through creative description that includes each character’s thoughts, their actions, and their reactions towards the events of the story.

Francis Macomber’s interior characteristics and impressions are revealed through such omniscient statements as:  In addition, more details are revealed about the character of Francis through the other principal characters and even though the characters who play a very small role in the story (e.g., the gun-bearers). For example, (p 250). By means of a combination of this type of information, Francis Macomber’s character is changed due to constant abuse from other characters, an inner struggle with fear and embarrassment, and, eventually, by hatred- a deep hatred for Mr. Wilson and a somewhat quieter hatred for Margaret Macomber.

An initial cause in the final changes of Francis’ personality can be attributed to the constant abuse suffered at the hands of his wife, and, briefly, by Mr. WilsonFor example, in p 259. Francis and Margaret have obviously reached a point of stagnation- stagnation in their feelings for each other and stagnation in their desire for the relationship. The attention from society press (and society people), discussed in p 237-p 238, is more than likely an additional driving force for Margaret as well.

The reader gets the impression that she craves attention, good, bad, or indifferent. However, he demonstrates cowardice without fear of remorse from his wife. However, it is the remorse that he himself, deep inside, feels, that begins to turn Mr. Macomber around. Additionally, Mr. Wilson also contributes to this compounding abuse.  Even though, for the most part, Mr. Wilson’s feelings are perceivably kept within the confines of his own mind, the effects of these thoughts still exist. To illustrate, in p 54, Mr. Wilson is thinking to himself, “So he’s a bloody four-letter man as well as a bloody coward. I rather liked him too until today.”

As the reader progresses through the story, it is obvious that the abusive remarks, thoughts, and actions of Mr. Wilson, and especially those of Margaret, are central factors in contributing to the changes that take place in the personality of Francis Macomber.  Francis finds himself struggling with fear and embarrassment from the onset of the story, although the details of the initial fear are revealed to the reader somewhat later. This internal struggle with fear and embarrassment is a paramount factor in his subsequent transformation.

Hemingway puts the reader in a position to make decisions about the effects of the previously discussed abuse as it relates to Francis’ internal battle with fear and embarrassment. Clearly, these feelings play a key role in the development of the character, but this abuse also raises a few questions.

Is Macomber affected enough by the embarrassment and the fear caused by the scene with the lion (p 168-p 229) to make this final transformation? Is the incident with the lion in the bush the contributing factor to Francis’ deep-rooted changes? No, if it were that simple, Hemingway would have succeeded in creating a rather listless story. To cite an instance, in p 89. Also, later in the story, Mr. Wilson contributes outwardly to Francis’ feelings of embarrassment by bedding Margaret. In this capacity, Mr. Wilson causes Francis to suffer the greatest embarrassment that a man can endure.

And then Mr. Wilson rubbed salt into the wound by answering “Topping” to Francis’ inquiry into the state of his previous night’s sleep (p 269). Plainly, the incident with the lion caused an incredible fear within Francis. This feeling was combined with multiple situations of inconceivable embarrassment, which resulted in the transformation of Francis Macomber into a new man.  A final and essential contributing factor to Francis Macomber’s ultimate transformation is the hatred that forms within him. Initially, the reader is given the impression that this hatred is solely intended for Mr. Wilson, the man who saved his life and then had the boldness to bed his wife in the bastion of night.

This hatred, however, is only aimed at Mr. Wilson because he is the most likely, the most obvious, target. It is Francis’ own powerlessness in respect to his wife that stops him from recognizing that this hatred is actually targeted towards her more than towards Mr. Wilson. It is obvious that had the other man not been Mr. Wilson, it would have been someone else. Indeed, it had been someone else, many times.

The reasons for the development of this hatred toward his wife becomes more evident in p 261-p 264:  “You don’t wait long when you have an advantage, do you?” “Please, let’s not talk. I’m so sleepy, darling.” “I’m going to talk.” “Don’t mind me then, because I’m going to sleep.”  Not only did she leave the tent, their tent, but she sneaked into the night to bed a man she barely knew, and she also had the nerve to come back into the tent and call Francis “darling!” To top off the whole guilt-ridden, embarrassing and downright miserable day, she additionally refused to speak to him about what had obviously taken place.

Not only did she refuse to speak with him, but she chose to outright ignore him. Frankly, it is surprising that the hatred for this woman that was developing within him did not cause him to choke the soul out of her then and there! Hence, the events of the story cause an intense hatred for both Mr. Wilson and Margaret. This hatred is a chief element in reconstructing Francis Macomber, in forming a man without fear of repercussion and giving him the manhood he has needed for many years.

When faced with a combination of events and personalities, a man must decide immediately which way he will go. Francis Macomber had to make a decision that would stay with him for the rest of his life. Would he continue to suffer at the hands of this abhorrent woman? Would he continue to tolerate such behavior from his wife? Would he continue to react to her behavior in the same manner, a manner that causes men to gaze upon him with despite and repugnation? Francis, in a sense, was given a second chance with the lion, and it was again a life or death decision.

Once again, he had to decide- would he face the lion or would he turn and run? This factor of the story is confirmed in p 237 when Francis states, “about sex in books, many books, too many books…” Here the reader can feel Francis’ near disgust with himself. Furthermore, this also demonstrates that. The blending of mental abuse, embarrassment and fear, and deep hatred were responsible for changing the character of a boring, somewhat anesthetized Francis Macomber into that of a man, a man with values and feelings and morals; a man capable of living happily ever after, regardless of the span of his life.

The character Francis Macomber, a wealthy American, and his wife, Margot, are on safari with their English guide, Robert Wilson. Macomber wounds a lion and runs away in fear. The guide is horrified at his bad sportsmanship Macomber redeems himself by killing a buffalo cleanly and bravely. he faces another buffalo, a charging, badly wounded bull. From the car where she has been watching, Margot takes aim and shoots at the charging buffalo, apparently to save her husband’s life.

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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