In the story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” by Ernest Hemingway, there are three main characters that the story of an African safari revolves around. Francis Macomber, Margaret (Francis’s wife), and Wilson (the professional hunter) are the characters which the writer, Ernest Hemingway, uses to create an opportunity for Francis to overcome his internal conflicts and live a short, happy life by conquering his fears. Francis’s marriage to Margaret is problematic because he is deviously subjugated by her manipulation. Wilson acts as a catalyst for Francis’s change by not only being a guide to Francis for the safari but acting as a model of physical courage that also helps guide Francis to what he is silently seeking manhood. The story supplies enough evidence to conclude that Francis interaction with Margaret and Wilson instigates opposing effects, where Margaret encourages devastation and Wilson promotes restoration.
Margot imposes a mental and sexual dominance over her husband. It is revealed to the reader in the beginning when she leans over to kiss Wilson on the mouth in front of her husband to show her disfavour with Francis. The dominance sexually over her husband is made clear when Margaret leaves during the night to sleep with Wilson. As with most adulterers, their motives for infidelity strain from the dissatisfaction of their marriage. She shows approval with Wilson’s display of firmness and less of an acceptance with Francis’s lack of certainty when Wilson is the one that stands to kill the lion, while Francis flees from danger. She explains how Francis’s cowardice during the hunt affected her when she says, “I wish it hadn’t happened”, and leaves almost in tears (Hemingway).
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Her statement and actions described by the narrator paint the picture that she is sincere in sharing the unpleasantness of what happened with Francis, but later she comes back and confesses, “I’ve dropped the whole thing” (Hemingway). Margaret’s 360º change of attitude in forgetting the incident shows how that she is not upset because of any concern for her husband, but that she did not expected her husband to live up to her expectations. The story also reveals that this infidelity by Margaret had been accruing for many years before and that she had also detached herself from her husband sexually. The narrator subtly clues the reader into the degree of sexual interaction with Francis and his wife when he describes that Francis had a limited knowledge of things, but what he did know about sex, “in books” (Hemingway).
Margaret’s character seems to also confirm an underlying nature of supremacy, whether or not she would profit from it. Margaret’s attributes correlate towards that of a lion’s, because of her seemingly unyielding predatory nature toward he husband. H. H. Bell, Jr. gives a similar observation of Margaret in his essay called “The Explicator” when he says that, “Hemingway is inclined to view Margot Macomber throughout the entire story as something akin to a lioness” (Bell). When Francis runs away from the lion, he shows how an actual lion reveals within himself intimidation and apprehension, which is much like confrontation with his wife. Margaret’s lioness appeal is attracting to Wilson as a hunter and she also shares an instinctual attraction for him as the contender of a hierarchical nature. Wilson identifies Margaret’s cunning much like he does with how Francis’s lion waits in the bush so that he “can’t see him until you’re on him” and the narrator tells the reader this when he states,” she wasn’t stupid, Wilson thought, no, not stupid” (Hemingway).
Margaret’s abuse toward Francis serves the purpose to place control of their marriage in her hands and prevent their separation. Both share certain obstacles that elude them from separating, but compared to Margaret’s obstacle, Francis’s is only temporary. Francis’s obstacle is the incapability to take a blinded leap towards establishing his right for self conviction. The narrator exposes Margaret’s obstacle when he says, “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” (Hemingway).
Margaret most likely relied on her beauty and social position to attract Francis as a companion for marriage. Althoguh Margaret displays a purely instinctual brutishness, she is able to reveal a rationality to even up the odds in her marriage, but she is not comprehensive enough to foresee losing her control over Francis. She finally crosses the line with Francis’s when she sleeps with Wilson and shrugs it off to him. All of Francis’s false hopes that Margaret would end her adultery were lost when he says, “There wasn’t going to be any of that. You promised there wouldn’t be” (Hemingway). He is finally provoked enough to fight back. His disgust would serve as motivation to cause him to ignore his submissiveness and take a leap towards fearlessness. Even though it is Margaret who initiates this disgust and hatred within Francis, it is Wilson who he turns the blame too.
Francis does not seem to realize that Wilson’s behavior is not really to blame and the narrator clues the reader into Wilson’s true motives when sleeping with Margaret by saying,” their standards were his (Wilson’s) standards as long as they were hiring him” (Hemingway).
To understand how Wilson becomes a model of courage for Francis, there must be sufficient insightfulness of Wilson for the reader to recognize that he models a distinctive and admirable trait for Francis. Throughout the story the narrator gives additional thought into the mind of Wilson than the other characters. This information is meant to help the reader empathize with Wilson because he reflects Hemingway’s integrity and therefore is shown favouritism.
In an article by time magazine titled “The Hero of the Code”, it describes what Hemingway named “The Code Hero”, which is a standard that is tested by the courage and its’ essence is conducted (The Hero of the Code). In the book called “Ernest Hemingway – Blooms Major Short Story”, it states that by Wilson not following the laws of the land, like chasing buffalo by car, “Hemingway undermines this idealized portrait (of Wilson) in servial key moments” (List of Characters in ‘The short Happy Life of Francis Macomber).
But the critic in this book does not consider that Wilson is a character that answers to his own terms as a man, while expressing who he is through his profession. However, Francis does not recognize Wilson’s code of courage as desirable until he experiences it; and the narrator describes Francis’s reaction when he says,” In his life he had never felt so good” (Hemingway). Francis had dealt with Margaret’s disposition of their relationship with the misunderstanding of how to handle it and the reader is given evidence of this when he says to Margaret, “I’ve tried it so long. So very long”, which is in response to her telling him to behave himself after he gets upset about her sleeping with Wilson (Hemingway). Hemingway intentionally introduces the ideals of Wilson as the solution to Francis’s ordeal with his wife to express how The Code Hero is the solution to Hemingway’s own ordeals in his life.
Before Francis’s change, he had blamed Wilson for his wife’s infidelity and hated him for it. After Francis’s change, he finds the courage to rest the blame onto the true offender and reject his wife with her criticism when he says, “If you don’t know what we’re talking about why not keep out of it” (Hemingway). Margaret realizes the change in Francis and is afraid of her losing the upper-hand over him, which would also lose her their marriage with Francis’s wealthy contribution. The narrator states that Margaret is afraid when he says, “her contempt was not secure. She was very afraid of something” (Hemingway).
Unfortunately, the curtain is drawn over the new found happiness of Francis by having him shot to death by his deceptively, manipulative wife, which leaves room for speculation as to Margaret’s true motives. Whether Margaret was guilty of murder or not, she was guilty of questionable treatment towards her husband and adultery. In some eyes, that could be enough of a motive for murder.
Wounded from Francis new found self, Margaret might have waited much like the lioness, gathered all her remaining strength in preparation for a charge, and pulled the trigger. Although Francis had his life put to an end, he died happily in the heat of bravery without any fear of death, which was what Wilson had lived by. Wilson guided Francis to this belief and he teaches it to him when he says, “By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe God a death and let it go which way it will he that dies this year is quit for the next” (Hemingway).
Bell, H. H. “The Short Happy Life of Franics Macomber – Critical overview.”
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Bloom, Herold, ed. “List of Characters in ‘The short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.'” Ernest
Hemingway – Blooms Major Short Story Writers. Broomall:
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Hemingway, Ernest. “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber .” Geocities. 27
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“The Hero of the Code.” Time Magazine. 4 July 1961. CNN. 19 June 2007
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