The Short Happy Life
Of Francis Macomber
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. The marriage between the two is summarized in the statement, "Margot was too beautiful for Macomber to divorce her and Macomber had too much money for Margot ever to leave him." (Hemingway 1402). Both were dependent on each other, which is what made the relationship strong. What is also important is that Margot and Francis have very different personalities. Margot is a very controlling person. Her marriage and relationship with Francis Macomber is dependent on this fact. Margot must have complete control over her husband in order to keep the relationship at an equilibrium. Francis needs Margot because, as Margot herself has accurately observed, he could not find another wife if Margot were to leave him. This is clearly seen when the narrator states, "If he had been better with women she would probably have started to worry about him getting another new, beautiful wife; but she knew too much about him to worry about him
either." (Hemingway 1402).
With this small amount of background information, the true motive for an intentional killing can be found. As Margot witnesses the elation, bravery, and sudden independence that Francis Macomber derives from his valiant pursuit and killing of the buffalo, she witnesses the loss of control over her husband that is so essential to their relationship. This can clearly be seen in the conversation of Francis Macomber after killing the buffalo when he states, "You know I don't think I'd ever be afraid of anything again....Something happened in me after we saw the buff and started after him. Like a dam bursting. It was pure excitement." (Hemingway 1408). If Francis lost all fears, as he supposedly does after killing the buffalo, then there is a great chance that he could afford to loose Margot. His newfound bravery could be put to use in finding another wife. This was very disagreeable to Margot, and can be clearly discerned from her remarks when she replies to Francis about his performance with the buffalo. Francis ask her,
"Wasn't it marvelous, Margot?' and she replied, 'I hated it,...I loathed
it." (Hemingway 1408). It was at this point in which Margot saw her control over her husband, control which had lasted for so many years and was so essential to the relationship, begin to vanish. Clearly, to Margot, the relationship as she had known it was about to come to an end, and she was now on the loosing side. The equilibrium in the relationship had been destroyed.
Margot's initial reaction to this was very predictable; she tried to play down the event by stating,
"You're both talking rot...Just because you've chased some helpless animals in a motor car you talk like
heroes." (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 Wilson states, "Sorry....I have been gassing too much." and following it,
"She's worried about it already, he thought." (Hemingway 1409). Wilson has accurately interpreted the status of the relationship and it is he who, by the end of the story, gives the reader more evidence as to the true motive for Margot killing Francis.
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's 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. Wilson gives the reader a lucid account of his impression of Margot's reaction to Francis's cowardice by stating:
So, Robert Wilson thought to himself, she is giving him a ride, isn't she? Or do you suppose that's her idea of putting up a good show? How should a woman act when she discovers her husband is a bloody coward? She's damned cruel but they're all cruel. They govern, of course, and to govern one has to be cruel sometimes. Still, I've seen enough of their damn terrorism. (Hemingway 1395)
From this astute analysis of the two, Wilson shows the reader several very important things. One is the fact, although somewhat machiavellian, that Margot had the capability to be cruel as she "governed" over her husband. Another observation that is somewhat important is the fact that she is solid in her control over Francis after he cowers from the lion. Although his cowardice is embarrassing to her, it still allows her to control her husband by asserting authority and belittling his actions. This is the cruelty that Wilson observes in the passage above.
When Francis is confronted with the same situation in hunting the buffalo as with hunting the lion, Margot regains the hope that the new valor of her husband would fade away. Her elation can be seen when Wilson states that the buffalo is in the bush and will have to be flushed out just as the lion had. Margot states, "
Then it's going to be just like the lion,' said Margot, full of anticipation." (Hemingway 1407). The key word in this quote is anticipation. She is filled with excitement in the anticipation that her husband would make a repeat performance, consequently loosing all of his new courage and placing her back in control of the relationship. 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. The passage shows exactly how Francis felt just prior to her killing Francis. In it she states:
'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 many years back and the way they were together now was no one person's fault.
'Not for me,' said Macomber. (Hemingway 1409)
From this quote, the reader can clearly see that Margot has lost her edge in the relationship. She is no longer in charge. She is no longer needed by Francis. Margot is, in effect, expendable to Francis. Margot knew that she had been expendable for many years, but it had never been a great fear because she knew that Francis would never be able to replace her on his own. He was incapable of the independence needed to find a new wife. This had all changed, however, by the end of the story. It had become clear to Margot that the relationship was over; or it was from her perspective.
After Margot fires the fatal shot, further evidence is given by Robert Wilson that supports the assertion that the killing was intentional. In response to the killing Wilson states, "That was a pretty thing to do...He would have left you too" (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. What is also important after the killing is the fact that Margot never denies that it was intentional. What is also ironic is that Wilson has the most control in the end of the story. This can be seen in the last few lines when Margot literally has to beg him to stop tormenting her about killing Francis. When she finally says please, Wilson agrees to stop.
From all of the evidence given in the story, and from an objective analysis of the conversation and narration, it is safe to make the assumption that the killings were indeed intentional. There is simply not enough tangible evidence given in the conversation or narration that would suggest otherwise. There is a clear motive, as well as a credible witness to the event who feels from his knowledge of the couple, which is far greater than the limited knowledge of the relationship the reader is given, that the killing was intentional. Although by law this assertion would not have a chance of being proven beyond a reasonable doubt, for the purposes of analyzing this story it is a safe assertion.