Equipped with potent technology—guns, cars, and the like—the hunters in this story are capable of exercising control over nature. Yet Wilson, Francis Macomber, and the Swahili guides regard the natural world with awe and veneration. They seem to recognize that despite their own forceful, dangerous weapons, the beasts they target are similarly powerful and dangerous, and thus are worthy of respect. Furthermore, since Hemingway highlights the perspectives of both the male hunters (Wilson and Macomber) and the hunted (the lion)—and because Macomber is himself shot and killed like a hunted animal—Hemingway suggests an ultimate equivalence between human beings and the animals they hunt.
The hunters approach their task with excitement and fervent nervousness. Macomber trembles while loading his rifle to approach the lion, whose “impressive” roar is a source of both trepidation and wonderment. This suggests that, to Macomber and the others, the hunt is equal parts ritual and mystical encounter, since the animals they target are wholly majestic beasts, not entirely powerless to human technology. “The lion looked huge,” Hemingway writes, “silhouetted on the rise of bank in the gray morning light, his shoulders heavy, his barrel of a body bulking smoothly.” The author’s descriptive language here evokes both traditional masculinity (“heavy,” “bulking”) and weaponry (“barrel of a body”), suggesting that the lion is a powerful rival to both man and his technology.
Moreover, guns on their own are not enough to kill the creatures the hunters encounter. Wilson instructs Macomber to shoot the buffalo “straight into the nose,” or “into his chest, or, if you’re to one side, into the neck or the shoulders.” This reveals that it takes focused precision to dominate nature, not blind force, since animals are innately strong and can resist even the most powerful of hunting weapons. (The lion, though severely wounded, is able to tighten “into an absolute concentration for a rush,” Hemingway writes, “all of him, pain, sickness, hatred, and all of his remaining strength.”)
Additionally, Hemingway moves smoothly between the lion’s perspective and that of the hunters, giving voice and interior life to both humans and animals—imbuing the animals with a sense of personhood and further suggesting man’s innate connection to the natural world. During the lion hunt and within the space of a few sentences, Hemingway transitions into third-person omniscient narration and plunges into the lion’s mind: “Macomber stepped out of the curved opening at the side of the front seat […] The lion still stood looking majestically and coolly toward this object that his eyes only showed in silhouette, bulking like some super-rhino.” Here, the animal is again posited as an equal to both technology (the car appears like a “super-rhino,” animal-like) and man, whose psychological depth the lion shares. Like man, the lion feels pain (“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 is stomach”) and experiences fear and hatred—emotions Macomber himself experiences in the story, even as he claims to lack an understanding of animals and the natural world. Though “Macomber did not know how the lion had felt before he started his rush, nor during it when the unbelievable smash of the .505 […] had hit him in the mouth,” Macomber has felt both terror and anger already in the story (toward Wilson, his wife Margot, and his own apparent cowardice), and he is thus on some level the lion’s counterpart.
Perhaps most significantly, Macomber and the buffalo he hoped to kill die in the same way, and both are registered by Wilson as equivalent in death. Macomber and the buffalo die by shots to the head, described by Hemingway with the same kind of precision: “Macomber had stood solid and shot for the nose, shooting a touch high each time and hitting the heavy horns […] and Mrs. Macomber, in the car […] had hit her husband about two inches up a little to one side of the base of the skull.” Though earlier in the narrative, the hunters only directed precise force toward animals—they seem to beat the Swahili guides indiscriminately—this concluding moment indicates that man and beast are similarly fallible.
Furthermore, Wilson regards the dead buffalo as a “hell of a good bull […] a good fifty inches, or better,” and then calls for a driver to “spread a blanket over the body.” This “body” is in reference to Macomber’s, but Hemingway’s ambiguity in language suggests that it could be the buffalo’s—especially given Wilson’s self-avowed reverence for nature. The story’s concluding image is of two lifeless bodies, both utterly passive and physically similar. Macomber’s head is “crew-cropped,” while the buffalo’s belly is “thinly-haired,” suggesting that both creatures are in some way close to earth and nature, unprotected by layers of hair. In death, as in life, man and animal are united.
Though Hemingway in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” initially seems to create a strict dichotomy between man and nature, framing each as foe to the other—locked in a struggle to the death, symbolized by the hunt—this dichotomy quickly collapses, replaced by a more cohesive understanding of humans and animals. Despite their immediate differences, men and beasts are intimately connected, both to the natural world and to each other.
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Men and Nature Quotes in The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber
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.