Ernest Hemingway’s “Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is a double statement about manhood. The story’s plot revolves around a rich thirty-five year old American’s sudden transformation from a boy to a man during an African safari. Underneath the surface, however, is a scathing criticism of the American upper class of the 1920’s and 30’s. Hemingway’s distinct style and universal theme make this story a classic.
The narrator of “The Short Happy Life”, Robert Wilson, is a gruff, tough British hunter-turned-tour guide. He is a realistic and static character whose insight, thoughtful nature and neutrality to those around him greatly aid his telling of the story. His current charges are Francis Macomber, the “very tall, very well built” realistic main character and Margot, his “extremely handsome and well-kept”, static, realistic wife (122). The two despise each other but are inseparable; Margot is too old and dependent on Francis’s wealth and Francis lacks the confidence necessary to get another woman.
Francis and Margot’s marriage completely disintegrates after Francis runs away from a lion instead of killing it on the safari; that night, Margot leaves Francis’s side to lie with Robert Wilson. Francis is enraged by Margot’s infidelity and the next day shoots three buffalo, killing one. After the encounter, he is a changed man; “Macomber felt a wild unreasonable happiness that he had never known before” and no longer fears anything (149). Wilson is surprised but pleased by the change; Margot, however, feels sickened and dreaded by her loss of power. When Macomber and Wilson hunt down and try to kill a wounded buffalo, she “accidentally” kills her husband with a pistol while shooting at the buffalo. Francis matured as a person and Margot could not handle it.
According to Hemingway, the problems between Francis and his wife never would have occurred if not for the weakness of American society. Wilson regards Francis as one of the “great American boy-men”, “damned strange people” who look and act like boys well into their fifties (150). He is even more wary about the wife, he considers American women “the hardest, the cruelest, the most predatory and the most attractive and their men have softened or gone to pieces nervously as they have hardened” (126). He finds Francis’s wife and other American women very attractive and has sexual intercourse with them frequently, but has still “seen enough of their damn terrorism” (128). Hemingway, clearly, has had enough with the wealthy of America.
Though the setting of “The Short Happy Life” is essential to the events that take place therein, man’s coming of age is one of the most popular themes of world literature. Hemingway agrees with many thinkers that a man is created through challenge and suffering; his main character’s sudden transformation through the killing of wild beasts is a different interpretation of the nature challenge and suffering. Hemingway is also unique in the different reactions of his supporting characters; Robert Wilson, a man, is pleased and intrigued by Francis’s change while Francis’s wife, Margot, is mortified. Misogyny happens to be another common theme in Hemingway stories.
Hemingway’s style is one of the most distinctive in the English-speaking world. It is brief and heavy on dialogue and descriptions of places. His vocabulary and sentence structure are both very simple. Though its originality can make it somewhat difficult to read, Hemingway’s style is lively and refreshing.
“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is hardly inspiring, but it is a very realistic and captivating portrayal of human nature. This is a story for people who want to learn about people; it may shatter some illusions of our greatness. Due to its depressing content, the story is hard to like, but it is definitely worthwhile and a work of art.
“The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber” by Ernest Hemingway is a story about both coming of age and the flaws of the upper class of his society. In this story, the author seems to make a wish for an increased pursuit of manhood in his society and decreased reliance on wealth and power. A man’s power lies within his soul, not his wallet, and Francis Macomber learns these lessons the hard way.