guity in his story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” The mystery of the story does not reveal itself to the reader until the end, yet it leaves a lot to the imagination. The story is about the deficiencies in a marriage and how it effects and is effected by a right of passage the husband experiences from coward to fearless adult. The story takes place on an African safari with three main characters. Francis Macomber, a wealthy American, his wife Margaret, and Wilson, a professional hunter hired by Macomber. At the end of the story Margaret kills her husband by accident in order to save him from being mauled by a large wounded buffalo. The ambiguity is whether or not this killing was truly accidental. I consider it to be intentional and Hemingway certainly gives numerous instances that could lead the reader to devise an acceptable motive, yet human nature tells the reader that this killing could not have been intentional. From an objective analysis, I believe the reader can find far more evidence supporting the theory of an intentional killing rather than an accidental one. Hemingway uses the character of Wilson throughout the story to give the reader the most objective description of the relationship between Francis and his wife. It is his insight that is most detailed and suggests that she might be capable of such an act. At the end of the story, he believes her actions to be intentional. The evidence supporting the idea that Margaret killed Francis intentionally can best be seen when observing and studying the information on Francis and Margaret, how they interact with each other, and Wilson’s observations of them. With this combination of information, I believe Hemingways plot for an intentional killing can be found.
The Macomber marriage is based mainly on convenience. Macomber’s a rich man, but of poor demeanor while Margot is beautiful, but now to old to remarry and so remains with her wealthy husband. Hemingway gives us a clear image of the Macomber marriage in these early passages;His wife had been through with him before but it never lasted. He was wealthy, and would be much wealthier and he knew she would not leave him ever now. That was one of the few things that he really knew. (pg. 139)
His wife had been a great beauty and she was still a great beauty in Africa, but she was not a great enough beauty any more at home to be able to leave him and better herself and she knew it and he knew it. If he had been better with women she would have probably started to worry about him getting another new, beautiful wife; but she knew too much about him to worry about him either. Also, he had always seemed to have a great tolerance which seemed the nicest thing about him if it were not the most sinister. (pg. 139)
Margaret is constantly belittling, humiliating, and rejecting Francis. Hemingway begins to dramatically show this to the in the following passage. This passage occurs after a major incident in the story where Francis cowardly runs from a lion during a hunt with Wilson.
Macomber’s wife had not looked at him nor he at her and he had sat in the back seat with Wilson sitting in the front seat. Once he had reached over and taken his wife’s hand without looking at her and she removed her hand from his. Looking across the stream to where the gun-bearers were skinning out the lion he could see that she had been able to see the whole thing. While they sat there his wife has reached forward and put her hand on Wilson’s shoulder. He turned and she had leaned forward over the low seat and kissed him on the mouth. (pg. 138)
The night after cowardly running from the lion both Margaret and Wilson contribute to Francis’ own feelings of embarrassment and humiliation by bedding together. The incident was lead by Margaret and she made sure to taunt Francis about it. The following exchange between them demonstrates this point;
He realized that his wife was not in the other cot in the tent. He lay awake with that knowledge for two hours. At the end of that time his wife came into the tent, lifted her mosquito bar and crawled cozily into bed.
“Where have you been?”
“I just went out to get a breath of fresh air.”
“That’s a new name for it. You are a bitch.”
“Well, you’re a coward.”
“All right,” he said. “What of it?”
“Nothing as far as I’m concerned. But please, let’s not talk, darling, because I’m very sleepy.”
“You think that I’ll take anything?”
“I know you will, sweet.”
“Well, I won’t.” (pg. 140)
Hemingway goes on in the passage to give some history of Margots behavior and the extent of suffering Francis has endured;
“You said if we made this trip that there would be none of that. You promised.” (pg. 140)
This is a clear indication that infidelities have occurred several times prior to this one.
Francis is suffering personal humiliation from the lion incident, along with the humiliation from the degrading act of his wife and Wilson. He continues to be humiliated even further the following morning when he inquires into Wilson’s previous nights sleep and Wilson responds by saying “Topping” to Francis. Now he bears the burden of being degraded in front of both his wife and another man. Although Wilson’s feelings are perceivably kept within the confines of his own mind, the effects of these thoughts still exist. Hemingway expresses Wilsons feelings about Francis in his personal thoughts;
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 Wilson and especially those of Margaret are the central factors contributing to the changes that take place in the personality of Francis. He finds himself struggling with fear and embarrassment from the onset of the story. This embarrassment is a paramount factor in his subsequent transformation from coward to fearless adult. Francis’ character is changed due to constant abuse from other characters and an inner struggle with this fear and embarrassment . He’s developed a deep hatred for Wilson and a somewhat quieter hatred for Margaret. Hemingway has slowly developed this building hatred and develops it even further the morning after Margaret and Wilson bedded together in the following passage;
At breakfast they were all three at the table before daylight and Francis found that, of all the many men that he had hated, he hated Robert Wilson the most.
When faced with a combination of events and personalities, a man must ultimately decide which way he will go. Francis has to make a decision that will stay with him for the rest of his life. Will he continue to suffer at the hands of this abhorrent woman? Will he continue to tolerate such behavior from his wife? Will he continue to react in a manner that makes other men look upon him with despite and repugnation? These are the issues Hemingway expresses through Francis’ character.
Hemingway uses the following days hunting trip for Francis’ transformation. They are hunting large buffalo. Without fear, Francis chases and shoots down some buffalo. This passage expresses Francis’ new found attitude from this experience that occurs because the abuse and humiliation finally push him beyond his own cowardice;
and he had no fear, only hatred of Wilson. (pg. 145)
Francis looses his fear while he bravely kills the buffalo with Wilson. Afterward he feels a drunken elation. Hemingway begins to express Margarets unhappy reaction to his new found bravery in the following passage.
In the car Macomber’s wife sat very white faced. “It seemed very unfair to me,” Margot said, “chasing those big helpless things in a motor car.”
She is trying to belittle him but her remarks and reactions are not of any importance to Francis now, he is focused completely on the hunt. It seems one of the buffalo got up and went into the brush. Now Francis has to deal with a situation identical to the incident with the lion. His reaction to the situation will confirm his new confidence expressed in this passage;
He expected the feeling he had had about the lion to come back but it did not. For the first time in his life he really felt wholly without fear. Instead of fear he had a feeling of definite elation. (pg. 148)
Hemingway shows the reader the degree that Margarets relationship is going to change. He uses several of Wilson’s observations to make this point. The following two passages provide good examples of this;
But he liked this Macomber now. Damned strange fellow. Probably meant the end of cuckoldry too. Well, that would be a damned good thing. Beggar had probably been afraid all his life. Don’t know what started it. But over now. Hadn’t had time to be afraid with the buff. That and being angry too. (pg. 150)
She’s worried about it already, he thought. (pg. 151)
Hemingway goes on to use the following exchange between Margaret and Francis to imply that he is going to leave her.
“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 years and the way they were together now was no one person’s fault. “Not for me,” said Macomber.
Margot said nothing but sat back in the corner of the seat. (pg. 151)
This is a very critical passage. Margaret has seen the change in Francis and feels very insecure. She realizes that her infidelities and belittlement of her husband will no longer be acceptable. She has lost her control over him and this frightens her. His fear is no longer holding him to her. Why did Margaret say “Isn’t it sort of late?”? This is the determining statement that implies to me that he is going to leave her. If the cause of her behavior was his cowardice, things should get better between them. It wouldn’t be too late.
At this point they think the buffalo is dead, but it comes out of the brush charging at them. Then Margaret shoots Francis while he’s battling with the mauled buffalo in the following passage;
Wilson ducked to one side to get in a shoulder shot. Macomber had stood solid and shot for the nose, shooting a touch high each time and hitting the heavy horns, splintering and chipping them like hitting a slate roof, and Mrs.Macomber in the car, has shot at the buffalo with the 6.5 Mannlicher as it seemed about to gore Macomber and had hit her husband about two inches up and a little to one side of the base of his skull. (pg. 153)
It is this very important passage that occurs immediately before Margaret shoots Francis along with Wilson’s reaction that I believe provides a clear indication that the shot was intentional.
The car was parallel to the patch of bush. Macomber, Wilson and the gun-bearer got down. Macomber, looking back, saw his wife, with the rifle by her side, looking at him. He waved to her and she did not wave back. (pg.152)
The rifle was right by Margaret’s side. Why? I believe it implies that she is planning to kill him. She is unable to deal with her insecurities. There is a possibility that Francis might leave her and she will not be able to handle this disgrace. Hemingway makes it clear to us in the beginning that she is not able to remarry, although beautiful, she is too old. Francis on the other hand is quite capable of remarrying. With his new demeanor he will be able to get a beautiful younger woman, one that will treat him with respect. With Francis dead, she will not have to deal with the possibility of the humiliation of being left by Francis. She will also not have to deal with the possibility of being poor.
Wilson, who has been accurate in his assessment of the relationship, seems a credible witness to the killing. Due to this fact, I believe his opinion as to the motive of the killing is credible to the reader as well. This is the final determining factor that convinces me of Margaret’s quilt. Hemingway expresses the opinion of his most credible and objective character in the following exchange between the two after the shot;
“That was a pretty thing to do,” he said in a toneless voice.
“He would have left you too.”
“Stop it,” she said.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “There will be a certain amount of unpleasantness but I will have some photographs taken that will be very useful at the inquest. There’s the testimony of the gun-bearers and the driver too. You’re perfectly all right.”
“Stop it,” she said.
“There’s a hell of a lot to be done,” he said. “And I’ll have to send a truck off to the lake to wireless for a plane to take the three of us into Nairobi. Why didn’t you poison him? That’s what they do in England.” (pg. 154)
Although Hemingways plot is ambiguous, he certainly gives numerous instances that lead the reader to devise an acceptable motive for murder. I believe the reader can find far more evidence supporting the theory of an intentional killing rather than an accidental one. The evidence supporting the idea that Margaret killed Francis intentionally includes Wilson’s observations and opinions, Margaret’s reaction to Francis’ transformation, and the emphasis Hemingway places on the gun previously and immediately after the shot. With this combination of information, I believe Hemingways plot for an intentional killing can be found.