July 28, 2023

#08-331: The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

Illustration from the first publication of the story (Wikipedia)

Note: Another amazing story from the hand of Hemingway, this time about love and cowardice.

Get Ready: Is fear anything to be ashamed of? Must a person always be brave?

Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" is sort of a love triangle in the unlikely setting of a big game safari.

The protagonists are the title character, Francis Macomber, a rich, 35-year-old American sportsman; his beautiful wife of eleven years, Margot (Margaret), a former cosmetics model; and Robert Wilson, the "great white hunter" they have hired to guide their hunt. Francis and Margot are trapped in an unhappy marriage, she by his money and he by her beauty.

As the story begins Francis has just shot his first lion, or so it seems. But in flashback we see he had lost his nerve. He had placed a non-fatal shot into the lion's flank and through its stomach. (More than once Hemingway does a masterful job of conveying the lion's point-of-view.) After another botched shot (in the lungs), the wounded lion hunkered down in the high grass, hoping for a chance to get the man that held the gun.

At last Wilson and Macomber approach the lion. The beast made a kind of cough and--"the next thing [Macomber] knew he was running; running wildly, in a panic in the open, running toward the stream." Wilson, Margot, the party's servants: everyone saw him run.

It was left to Wilson to finish off the suffering lion.

Macomber's cowardice is the crux of the story. It caused his wife to lose respect for him, and as a result she slept with Wilson (who was all too happy to have her). It led to squabbling between the couple--Macomber sensed she was through with him; a condescending attitude from Wilson; and a need in Macomber to prove that he was brave after all, no matter what.

So the next morning the party went after buffalo: not as dangerous as lions but still formidable. When Wilson and Macomber had killed most of a small group of three, one remained to be finished off. Macomber approached him carefully. The buffalo charged and, brave at last, Macomber fired when "he felt a sudden white-hot, blinding flash explode inside his head and that was all he ever felt."

Margot, under the guise of trying to shoot the buffalo and "save" Macomber, had almost certainly murdered him on purpose.


Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. botched
  2. condescending
  3. conveying
  4. crux
  5. flank
  6. flashback
  7. formidable
  8. guise
  9. hunkered
  10. safari
  1. looking down (on someone)
  2. a hunting trip in Africa
  3. a scene from earlier in a story
  4. impressive
  5. side
  6. the appearance of
  7. key point
  8. done badly
  9. portraying; describing
  10. crouched

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for July 28, 2023

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. a; 3. i; 4. g; 5. e; 6. c; 7. d; 8. f; 9. j; 10. b