The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber
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Ernest Hemingway wrote “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” in 1936 when it first appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine. This story takes place in Africa where Margot and Francis Macomber are on a hunting expedition with a hired guide, Robert Wilson. Francis Macomber has disgraced himself with an act of cowardice when the story opens and the complex and somewhat sinister relationship between husband and wife unfolds in the aftermath. Margot’s response is to sleep with Wilson, while Francis’ response is a determination to go hunting again to make up for his cowardice. He wants to make it right both for himself and for Margot. On the next day, Francis overcomes his fears and performs admirably during the hunt, demonstrating bravery and good hunting skills. Margot, watching from the car, is uneasy with the changes in her husband. At a critical moment when Francis is about to kill, or be killed by, a cape buffalo, Margot raises a rifle and shoots her husband in the head. His claim to happiness and fulfillment had lasted about thirty minutes, thus ‘the short, happy life’ of Macomber. Margot Macomber, in a state of primal panic for her own safety, deliberately shoots at her husband and the buffalo in her misguided attempt to make all her troubles go away.
The Macombers had a troubled marriage, but one which neither were inclined to end. Some couples have adapted their unhappiness to a contentious harmony of sorts. Living with a ‘don’t-ask-don’t-tell’ mantra that underlies their marital ennui, the Macombers allow injuries and insults to provide an undercurrent of energy in their union. When marriage isn’t based on love, but on other, more pragmatic principles, its foundations are easily shaken when threats to security create a primal fear in the threatened partner. Margot’s choice of her mate, Francis, has within it the certain primal as well as self-serving instincts. Sugiyama writes that in a hunter-gatherer society, “The benefits of choosing a good hunter as a mate go beyond food and protection. For example, the wife of a good hunter may receive special treatment from the group.” The question arises whether Margot was an equally good catch for her wealthy and socially prominent husband. Her greatest attribute was her beauty and both male characters acknowledged that. They looked good together as a couple, a socially acceptable quality for a socially mobile couple. Unfortunately for Margot, she has passed her prime time for switching mates—it was do or die for her in her social circles.