Essay, Research Paper: Short Happy Life Of Francis Macomber

Literature: Ernest Hemingway

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One theme present in Ernest Hemingway's short story, "The Short Happy Life
of Francis Macomber", is that the way a person views his life can change
completely in one fulfilling moment, if only for an instant. This is a story of
a man's continuous display of cowardice, his wife's retaliatory love affair, and
his recovery of integrity and pride as he bravely faces a charging buffalo.
Francis Macomber is a prominent American businessman with a beautiful,
dominating wife who holds the control and power in their marriage. At the start
of their safari trip to Africa, Francis Macomber is regarded as a coward and
endures the embarrassment from his own cowardliness during the hunt, the
disrespect from his wife, as well as a feeling of weakness when compared to
Robert Wilson, his safari leader. He regains his integrity and confidence when
he faces a charging bull only to have his life cut short when his fires a bullet
through the back of his head. At the start of the safari, Francis Macomber must
endure the embarrassment of his own cowardliness during the hunt. He is first
presented in a "mock triumph", since he had only "half an hour
before, been carried to his tent from the edge of the camp in triumph on the
arms and shoulders of the cook, the personal boys, the skinner and the porters.
The gun-bearers had taken no part in the demonstration" (DiYanni 337). This
is evident that Macomber has withdrawn from his prior hunt for a lion and has
already been recognized as a coward in the eyes of the gun-bearers. They do not
wish to pretend along with everyone else that Francis deserves praise for a lion
that he supposedly shot. Macomber, however, does finally shoot a lion during his
second outing with Wilson and his wife. Upon approaching the injured lion hiding
in the tall grasses, "Macomber heard the blood-choked coughing grant, and
saw the swishing rush in the grass. The next this he knew he was running;
running wildly, in panic in the open, running towards the stream" (DiYanni
347). Macomber does here what most any man would do if confrotned by a lion. He
runs. His wife, however criticizes him for what she sees as weakness in her
eyes. Another factor contributing to Francis Macomber's suffering self-esteem is
that he must also withstand the constant disrespect from his own wife, Margot.
She is the power in their marriage and refuses to let him show any type of
influence in their relationship. Margot readily shows everyone around them how
humiliated she is of her husband's actions even at the beginning of the safari
when she shuns her husband's choice of drink. She maintains much control and is
open with her affairs with other men. After the incident with lion and she
witnesses Francis's terrified retreat from the lion, she blatantly "leaned
forward over the low seat and kissed him on the mouth", referring to Robert
Wilson (DiYanni 347). She does not consider any of Francis's feelings. When he
asks her where she has been when she finally returns in the middle of the night
to their tent, she reply's "Out to get a breath of air", to which
Francis reply's "That's a new name for it. You are a bitch"(DiYanni
347). This seems to imply that this is not the first time she has been caught in
an affair. She states that the reason for her behavior is the result of his
cowardice. She turns to other men who demonstrate what she believes to be
strength and bravery. She holds absolutely no respect for her husband, and
insists on accompanying them on the safari even though even Wilson openly
opposes her request and thinks to himself that "women are a nuisance on
safari" (DiYanni 350). Francis Macomber, although wealthier and more
prominent when compared to his safari leader, Robert Wilson, also lacks the
strength and self-knowledge that Wilson seems to carry naturally in order to
survive in the African wildlife. Wilson represents the brave and courageous man
that Francis Macomber wants to become. He is introduced ordering a gimlet and
therefore rejecting Macomber's kind of drink. Macomber feeling ashamed of
himself and unsure of his choice changes his mind and orders the same drink. He
is aware of his self-consciousness and asks Wilson to not talk about an earlier
incident in which he had "bolted like a rabbit." Wilson, at this
point, loses any respect he has at all for Macomber, "so he's a bloody
four-letter man as well as a coward, . . . I rather liked him too until today.
But how is one to know about an American?" (DiYanni 339). It's clear that
Macomber does not make it a secret about his fears. Wilson tries to encourage
Macomber during the hunt by praising his shooting abilities. Later, when Wilson
goes against the hunter's code by chasing the buffalo in the automobile, he
loses face, Macomber replies with, "Now she has something on
you"(DiYanni 355). Francis Macomber finally regains his integrity and
confidence after he bravely faces a charging bull only to have his life cut
short by his wife, who has become fearful of her husband's newfound identity.
"You know I don't think I'd ever be afraid of anything again. . . I feel
absolutely different" is Macomber's response after he has shot the buffalo
(DiYanni 354). He has saved his soul at the last minute.Margot seeing the change
in her husband right before her eye, becomes afraid, "You've gotten awfully
brave, awfully suddenly" (DiYanni 355). Contributing factors to this sudden
change in Francis's behavior could be evident upon the constant verbal and
mental abuse from those around him, including his wife, Wilson, and even
briefly, the gun-bearers and society columnist. There is reason to believe that
Margot enjoys the attentions that go along with being Francis's wife, whether it
being good or bad. A final and contributing factor to the ultimate
transformation of Macomber, is the growing hatred towards Wilson for the affair
he carries on with his wife and a lesser hatred for his wife's attitudes towards
his fears and embarrassments. Macomber is tired of his wife's indifferences
towards him and shooting the buffalo is the first instance he has to prove him
manhood to everyone around him. Francis Macomber is a man who constantly finds
himself struggling with his fears and embarrassments. During his first hunt he
runs like a coward. However, the second hunt is different as he faces the
buffalo he has been hunting when it charges from the thickets and undergrowth
straight at him. Francis does not leap to the side this time, but instead calmly
fires his gun at the closing bull even to point-blank range before he is killed.
The question on whether or not it was accidental on the part of Margot Macomber
is not told, but stands obvious. This story exemplifies how a person can change
by just facing his fears. It begins with Macomber in the power and control of
Wilson and his wife; it ends with Wilson and Mrs. Macomber in the power and
control of Macomber.
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