The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber by Ernest Hemingway

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber - Ernest HemingwayIn The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber by Ernest Hemingway we have the theme of fear, cowardice, emancipation and coming of age. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person and is divided into three sections. In the first section the reader is introduced to the three main characters, Francis Macomber, his wife Margot and a veteran safari guide called Robert Wilson. Immediately the reader finds that Francis is different to his wife and Wilson. This is particularly noticeable when Francis asks Wilson and Margot ‘Will you have lime juice or lemon squash?’ In reply both tell Francis that they will a have a gimlet (stronger drink). This separation or distancing  of Francis from the other two characters is important because throughout the story the reader will realise that there are several instances in which Francis is different (or isolated) from his wife and Wilson. Another instance, later in the story (section two), is when Francis is thinking about what happened with the lion and he is alone in his cot while Margot sleeps with Wilson.

It is also in the first section of the story that Hemingway uses colour to convey a deeper meaning. When Margot tells Wilson that his face is red (to which he suggests it is because of his drinking), Francis tells his wife that his face is red too (from embarrassment over the incident with the lion and his act of cowardice). However Margot tells Francis that his face isn’t red, it is her that has the red face (shame she feels over what Francis has done). What is also significant about Margot telling Francis that her face is red, just like Wilson’s, is that she is again displaying that she has more in common with the more manlier Wilson than she does with her own husband.

It is in the second section of the story that the reader begins to understand or get a closer insight as to why Francis feels embarrassed. Having run away from the lion and relied on Wilson and the gun bearers to kill it he realises that his wife has also witnessed him running away. While they are travelling back to camp in the jeep, Margot kisses Wilson on the mouth. A defeated Francis can do nothing and later when it becomes clear to him that Margot has slept with Wilson he also knows that he can’t do anything about it. He knows that despite her adultery, he will not leave her (some critics might suggest that this is another instance of Francis displaying weakness).

How different Wilson and Francis are to each other is further highlighted in the second section of the story. When Margot insists that she is going to go hunting buffalo with them, Wilson suggests that Francis should order his wife to stay at the camp but Francis realises that he does not have the power to make Margot do as he wishes, not now that she has slept with Wilson. Another instance of the difference between Wilson and Francis is when Francis suggests to Wilson that they should just leave the lion and not go hunting it to finish it off.  It is obvious that Francis is scared while Wilson is being practical (if not humane). He doesn’t want to leave the lion in case someone else runs into it and he knows that it is better to finish the job off (to kill the lion).

It is only in the third section of the story that there is a sense of change, a change within Francis. He seems to have put the incident with the lion behind him and is excited at the prospect of hunting some buffalo. When he and Wilson do shoot the buffaloes he celebrates with Wilson and Margot by drinking some whiskey. This is important because it is in contrast to the lime juice or lemon squash that he suggested everybody should drink at the beginning of the story. Some critics suggest that the stronger drink (whiskey) mirrors the stronger Francis.

However Francis’s coming of age (or becoming a man as Wilson suggests) is short lived. While he and Wilson are trying to kill one of the buffaloes, Margot shoots Francis. There are several interpretations as to Margot’s actions. If it was accidental, as some critics might suggest, the story ends on a tragic note, tragic because Margot will never have the opportunity to live her life with a changed (and manlier) Francis. However the problem with this interpretation is that having come of age, Francis may have had the courage to finally leave Margot and start his life afresh, without her. Another interpretation of Margot’s shooting of Francis is that Margot may have deliberately shot him and by doing so remains the more dominant of the two. She was after all sitting in the jeep ‘very afraid of something.’ This fear may be the knowledge that Francis will no longer put up with her infidelities and will finally leave her now that he has changed. She has lost the power she had over him.

Regardless of which interpretation is preferred by the reader there is no doubting that the power remains (as it did in the beginning of the story) with Wilson. No longer should he be worried that Margot may have something on him (as Francis had suggested), over him killing the buffaloes from the jeep (which is illegal and would cost Wilson his hunting license). Now at the end of the story Wilson has something on Margot. He tells Margot that she should have poisoned Francis rather than shooting him which suggests to the reader that he (Wilson) believes that Margot deliberately killed Francis and that she now needs his help to cover the incident up.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber by Ernest Hemingway." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 3 Jan. 2014. Web.


  • Why is Robert Wilson’s face red?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Thanks for the comment Kyle. There could be several reasons as to why Wilson’s face is red. The sun may have burnt it and he also likes to drink alcohol which reddens a person’s face. Symbolically it is also possible that Wilson’s red face symbolizes the fact that he is hiding something. That being he is sleeping with Margot and he may be embarrassed.

  • what are the reflections of Hemingway, in this story to Robert Wilson?

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Hemingway probably considers Wilson to be a stronger character than Francis. To be more independent and in the same mould or style as Hemingway himself. A man’s man.

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