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Explication: "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"

Updated on March 4, 2019
Ronna Pennington profile image

Ronna Pennington has a Master of Liberal Arts degree (history) and is nearing completion of a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Non-fiction.

An early look at character traits in the male characters

An early extended conversation between Wilson and Macomber shortly after Macomber runs from the lion reveals character traits of each to the reader.

"What were you telling him?" Macomber asked. (Macomber was curious. Perhaps Wilson was making fun of him to the assistant for running from the lion. This shows Macomber's insecurity. )

"Nothing. Told him to look alive or I'd see he got about fifteen of the best."

"What's that? Lashes?"

"It's quite illegal," Wilson said. "You're supposed to fine them." (This shows that Wilson will do something that is prohibited. He's also rather proud of it since he's talking freely to Macomber about it. This foreshadows Wilson sleeping with Margo later in the story. That is also not permitted by moral and gentlemanly standards, but he does it anyway. Wilson sees that if the man is afraid to hunt, he is not likely to stand up for himself when Macomber realizes Wilson slept with his wife.)

"Do you still have them whipped?" (Macomber, ironically, asks this question because he understands nothing about whipping people into line or submission. His wife is a nagging whore that he cannot control.)

"Oh, yes. They could raise a row if they chose to complain. But they don't. They prefer it to the fines."

"How strange!" said Macomber. (This shows that Macomber knows little about people, at least people of a lower socio-economic level. While he has money to blow on a hunting trip to try to reaffirm his manhood, other men will take beatings to earn their full paycheck.)

"Not strange, really," Wilson said. "Which would you rather do? Take a good birching or lose your pay?"

Then he felt embarrassed at asking it and before Macomber could answer he went on, "We all take a beating every day, you know, one way or another." (Ironically, Macomber takes a beating each day from his wife. It will be worse now that he has run from the lion.)

This was no better. "Good God," he thought. "I am a diplomat, arent I? (7)"


"Iceberg" writing style leaves much to be decided by the reader

This conversation keeps with Hemingway's minimalist writing style and shows the readers what he wants them to know about the characters instead of simply having the narrator tell them.

The last sentence sums up Macomber's character. As a diplomat, he is a fence straddler. He tries to make everyone happy. He is there hunting to try to reaffirm his masculinity to himself and to his wife. There's a chance, too, that he's attempting to reaffirm his manliness to his community in general. As a man wealthy enough to hunt, he would be well-known.

Running from the lion ruins all that, though. Instead, he embarrasses his wife by seeming more diplomat than rugged hunter. Wilson is the rugged hunter and Margot shows Macomber which she prefers when she sneaks out of their tent to have sex with Wilson.

On the trophy theme

Wilson has little respect for Macomber. For one, Macomber is a rich guy who visits in order to hunt for trophy, something that will give him a degree of social status back home. Wilson, however, lives the life of a hunter every day. Wilson also shows he has little respect for Macomber when he sleeps with Margot. Macomber, a diplomat, appears wishy-washy, a characteristic that neither Margot or Wilson respect. Hemingway effectively plays on this trophy theme throughout the story. Margot is Macomber's "trophy" wife. While she is older and a mean person, she still helps him maintain an air of manliness in the public. In a way, Macomber is her trophy, too. At her advanced age and with her attitude, she might have trouble finding another man to put up with her demeaning nature. The trophy theme is also closely connected to Wilson, who guides men on their trophy hunts.


Hemingway, Ernest. "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, Scribner, 2017, pp. 7-14.


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