The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

by

Ernest Hemingway

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Francis Macomber Character Analysis

The protagonist of the story, Francis Macomber is a wealthy, thirty-five-year-old American man on safari in Africa. The story begins with Macomber’s crucial failure to hunt down and kill an African lion, which terrifies him and causes him to panic and flee. Though, at a glance, the fit, handsome Macomber is in the prime of his life, he is clearly also a man who lacks conviction and power. He can afford to organize a safari and hire hunters and guides, and to keep a beautiful wife (who, it is suggested, remains with him only because of his wealth), but Macomber does not have the courage to follow through with the task at hand—to dominate the beasts he encounters on the safari. Meanwhile, Macomber’s wife Margot has likely cheated on him on multiple occasions, suggesting that Macomber is neither a rugged man of action like his rival, the “white hunter” Robert Wilson, nor an adequately authoritative husband. (Keep in mind that this story is set in the 1930s, a period characterized by pervasive, conservative notions of gender dynamics.) Macomber’s seemingly miraculously transformation—from cuckold and coward to a “true man”—forms the story’s center, connecting two mirrored threads of narrative: the lion hunt and the buffalo hunt. Embarrassed by his apparent defeat at the hands of Margot, the lion, and Wilson, each of whom seem to draw attention to his own inadequacy, Macomber resolves to try again. At the buffalo hunt, he gains courage and fierceness, resisting Margot’s domination and proving himself as adept a hunter—and thus, as powerful a man—as Wilson. Yet Macomber dies at the end of the story (due to Margot’s perhaps accidental, perhaps purposeful gunshot), suggesting that his achievement of “true” masculinity is ultimately for naught.

Francis Macomber Quotes in The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

The The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber quotes below are all either spoken by Francis Macomber or refer to Francis Macomber . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Masculinity, Dominance, and Courage Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber published in 1987.
The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber Quotes

One, Wilson, the white hunter, she knew she had never truly seen before. He was about middle height with sandy hair, a stubby mustache, a very red face and extremely cold blue eyes with faint white wrinkles at the comers that grooved merrily when he smiled. He smiled at her now and she looked away from his face at the way his shoulders sloped in the loose tunic he wore with the four big cartridges held in loops where the left breast pocket should have been, at his big brown hands, his old slacks, his very dirty boots and back to his red face again.

Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

But that night after dinner and a whisky and soda by the fire before going to bed, as Francis Macomber lay on his cot with the mosquito bar over him and listened to the night noises it was not all over. It was neither all over nor was it beginning. It was there exactly as it happened with some parts of it indelibly emphasized and he was miserably ashamed at it. But more than shame he felt cold, hollow fear in him. The fear was still there like a cold slimy hollow in all the emptiness where once his confi­dence had been and it made him feel sick. It was still there with him now.

Related Symbols: The Lion
Page Number: 10-11
Explanation and Analysis:

The lion still stood looking majestically and coolly toward this object that his eyes only showed in silhouette, bulking like some super-rhino. There was no man smell carried toward him and he watched the object, moving his great head a little from side to side. Then watching the object, not afraid, but hesitating before going down the bank to drink with such a thing opposite him, he saw a man figure detach itself from it and he turned his heavy head and swung away toward the cover of the trees as he heard a cracking crash and felt the slam of a .30-06 220-grain solid bullet that bit his flank and ripped in sudden hot scalding nausea through his stomach.

Related Characters: Francis Macomber
Related Symbols: The Lion, The Car
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

All in all they were known as a comparatively happily married couple, one of those whose disruption is often rumored but never occurs, and as the society columnist put it, they were adding more than a spice of adventure to their much envied and ever-enduring Romance by a Safari in what was known as Darkest Africa until the Martin Johnsons lighted it on so many silver screens where they were pursuing Old Simba the lion, the buffalo, Tembo the elephant and as well collecting specimens for the Museum of Natural History.

Related Characters: Francis Macomber , Margot Macomber
Related Symbols: The Lion
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

"If you make a scene I'll leave you, darling," Margot said quietly.

"No, you won't."

"You can try it and see."

"You won't leave me."

"No," she said. "I won't leave you and you'll behave yourself."

"Behave myself? That's a way to talk. Behave myself."

"Yes. Behave yourself."

"Why don't you try behaving?"

"I've tried it so long. So very long."

Related Characters: Francis Macomber (speaker), Margot Macomber (speaker), Robert Wilson
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

He, Robert Wilson, carried a double size cot on safari to accommodate any windfalls he might receive. He had hunted for a certain clientele, the international, fast, sporting set, where the women did not feel they were getting their money's worth unless they had shared that cot with the white hunter. He despised them when he was away from them although he liked some of them well enough at the time, but he made his living by them; and their standards were his standards as long as they were hiring him.

Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Their figures stay boyish when they're fifty. The great American boy-men. Damned strange people. But he liked this Macomber now. Damned strange fellow, probably meant the end of cuckoldry too. Well, that would be a damned good thing. 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.

Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Wilson had 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, had 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.

Related Symbols: The Car
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber PDF

Francis Macomber Character Timeline in The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

The timeline below shows where the character Francis Macomber appears in The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber
Race, Violence, and Empire Theme Icon
At lunch in a dining tent, Francis Macomber, Robert Wilson, and Macomber’s wife, Margot, are pretending that nothing has happened. They decide... (full context)
Masculinity, Dominance, and Courage Theme Icon
In a flashback, Macomber is carried to his tent from the hunting ground by some African servants and hunting... (full context)
Masculinity, Dominance, and Courage Theme Icon
Men and Nature Theme Icon
Back in the present, Wilson tells Macomber that he’s got a damned fine lion. Margot looks at Wilson. She is beautiful and... (full context)
Masculinity, Dominance, and Courage Theme Icon
Macomber agrees with Wilson; the lion was good. Margot looks at both of the men as... (full context)
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...at Margot again. She does not smile back, however, and looks at her husband. Thirty-five-year-old Macomber, who is very tall with short hair and thin lips, is considered handsome. His safari... (full context)
Masculinity, Dominance, and Courage Theme Icon
...that he has a red face, which he says is from drink. Margot counters that Francis drinks, and his face isn’t red. Macomber, joking, says his face is red today. Margot... (full context)
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After asserting that upset women are a strain that amounts to nothing, Wilson tells Macomber to forget the whole thing, though Macomber insists again that he won’t forgot what Wilson... (full context)
Masculinity, Dominance, and Courage Theme Icon
Race, Violence, and Empire Theme Icon
Guilt and Morality Theme Icon
...that all the servant boys know about “it” now. Speaking Swahili, he snaps at one, Macomber’s personal boy, who is looking strangely at Macomber. The boy turns away. When Macomber asks... (full context)
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Guilt and Morality Theme Icon
Macomber says to Wilson that he hopes the lion business won’t have to go any further,... (full context)
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Still embarrassed, Macomber apologizes again, and Wilson looks at Macomber’s seemingly adolescent face. Wilson tries one more time... (full context)
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...expect her to be stupid—but she isn’t stupid, he thinks. Margot asks how he and Francis are doing, and says she has dropped the whole thing, since Francis’s trade isn’t killing... (full context)
Masculinity, Dominance, and Courage Theme Icon
In the dining tent, Margot mocks Macomber and says that she wants to see Wilson perform again, since he was lovely in... (full context)
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Later in the afternoon, Wilson and Macomber go off alone to hunt some impala, leaving Margot behind. Wilson compliments Macomber’s shooting and... (full context)
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Later, at night, Macomber lies on his cot, ashamed. His fear has replaced his confidence and makes him feel... (full context)
Men and Nature Theme Icon
The morning after, the lion roars again during breakfast, and Macomber frets that the animal is close to their camp. Wilson says that he hopes it’s... (full context)
Masculinity, Dominance, and Courage Theme Icon
Margot enters to have breakfast, and the lion roars again. Margot asks Macomber if something’s wrong, and Macomber admits that it’s the “damned roaring,” which has been going... (full context)
Masculinity, Dominance, and Courage Theme Icon
Men and Nature Theme Icon
Wilson gathers Margot and Macomber for the hunt, and they climb into their motor car and move up the river.... (full context)
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Men and Nature Theme Icon
At the same time that the lion is watching him approach, Macomber is walking toward the beast. Macomber’s hands are shaking, and his legs are stiff in... (full context)
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Macomber and Wilson sit under a tree smoking and prepare to find the lion. Macomber does... (full context)
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Wilson, Macomber, and the gun-bearers enter the grass, listening closely, rifles cocked. Macomber hears the lion’s grunt,... (full context)
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Later, when Wilson and Macomber return to the car, Margot does not look at her husband as he sits beside... (full context)
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Men and Nature Theme Icon
Macomber does not know what the lion felt as it started heading toward them, nor what... (full context)
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Nor does Macomber know how Margot feels about him now—but he does know that she is through with... (full context)
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Later that night after the lion hunt, Macomber wakes up suddenly, realizing that he has been dreaming about a bloody-headed lion. He also... (full context)
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The next morning at breakfast, Macomber regards Wilson with hatred. Wilson realizes that Macomber must have seen Margot sneak back into... (full context)
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Macomber, Margot, and Wilson bicker about having Margot stay in the camp while they hunt buffalo.... (full context)
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Next, Macomber, Margot, and Wilson head off on the hunt together. Macomber and Margot are not speaking,... (full context)
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Wilson does not want to hunt buffalo with Macomber—or to hunt with him at all anymore—but he pities Macomber and resolves to have nothing... (full context)
Masculinity, Dominance, and Courage Theme Icon
...at a gallop across the prairie in the distance. As the car speeds toward them, Macomber watches the animals get bigger and bigger until he can see clearly their huge bodies,... (full context)
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Moving quickly, Macomber hits one bull and misses another, which Wilson kills. Wilson tells Macomber that he’s shooting... (full context)
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...they return to the car for a drink, Margot is sitting there white-faced. She says Macomber is marvelous, and all of them drink whiskey from a flask. Margot says she didn’t... (full context)
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A gun-bearer approaches and informs Macomber and Wilson that the first bull was only wounded: he got up and went into... (full context)
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Guilt and Morality Theme Icon
Heading back to the car, Macomber feels a happiness he had never known before. He says he thinks he will never... (full context)
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Macomber asks if Wilson has a feeling of happiness about what’s going to happen, and Wilson... (full context)
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Men and Nature Theme Icon
Finally, Macomber and Wilson plan to shoot the final buffalo. Wilson tells Macomber that when the buffalo... (full context)
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Macomber, Wilson, and a gun-bearer get out of the car. The gun-bearer says to Wilson in... (full context)
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Men and Nature Theme Icon
At the same time that Macomber is shooting the bull, Wilson has ducked to the side to get a shoulder shot,... (full context)
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Margot is crying hysterically over Macomber’s body, and Wilson tells her not to turn her husband over. He puts a handkerchief... (full context)
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Guilt and Morality Theme Icon
...to stop, but he continues to admonish her, asking her why she didn’t just poison Macomber, since “that’s what they do in England.” Margot begs Wilson to stop again, and he... (full context)