Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"


The story is available at the following website:  http://www.geocities.com/cyber_explorer99/hemingwaymacomber.html.

It is also available at http://www.duke.edu/~ss57/macomber.pdf.


Background on Ernest Hemingway




Group Activity:  Discuss your group's questions for ten minutes.  When you report to the class, have at least one main point, two quotations, and one question to share with the class.  We will discuss question 6 as a whole class.

1.  WILSON:  Discuss this statement on Wilson:  "Wilson represents an unwitting hypocrite who harshly judges others on the basis of various strict and false codes that he himself does not follow."  How does the story illustrate this statement?  Also identify disconnections between Wilson's thoughts, words, and actions.  In what way is he responsible for Macomber's death?  In what way is Wilson a lousy guide?

2.  MACOMBER:  Evaluate the following homology:  Macomber is to "ineffective cowardice" as Wilson is to "masterful bravery."  Do so in light of the Somali proverb that  "a brave man is only frightened three times by a lion" and the following critical quotation:  "Traditionally, Macomber has been seen as a man who dramatically replaces ineffective cowardice with masterful bravery."  Or do you prefer the idea that "Macomber...illustrates no dramatic change from boyish cowardice to heroic manhood"?  What do you make of his previous activities in par. 231 ("His wife had been through...")?

3.  MARGARET:  True or false:  Margaret is a dominating American bitch.  Margaret never changes.  Is there such a thing as "that American female cruelty" (par. 69)?  Why else would Margaret cheat on her husband at his worst moment?

4.  ANIMALS:  Why does Hemingway enter the lion's consciousness and describe the kill from the big cat's point of view?  Is it possible that the main characters in the story--Wilson, Margaret, and the big game animals as well as the rabbit simile (par. 53)--all represent part of Macomber's psyche?  If so, what?

5.  DEATH:  Regarding death, Wilson quotes Shakespeare in par. 382; here is the original passage:  "By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe God a death and let it go which way it will, he that dies this year is quit for the next" (Henry IV, Part II, 3.2.250-55).  Do you agree with this statement?  Does knowing its source--"Francis Feeble, a woman's tailor, who belongs to the ragged band of recruits that Falstaff helpfully rounds up for the King's army"--make you agree or disagree?  Does the story affirm Wilson's belief in it? 

6. GENDER and POWER:  What is the difference between sex and gender?  Now that you have discussed the first five questions, how would you argue that "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber" is a story about gender and power?  Is it, for example, about what it means to be authentically masculine or feminine in American society and about how men and women struggle with each other for the upper hand?  How might your answer illuminate the title--in what sense is Francis happy?

--Quotations in the above questions are from Virgil Hutton's article, "The Short Happy Life of Macomber," in Jackson J. Benson's The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway:  Critical Essays (Durham:  Duke UP, 1975), 239-50.


Questions from GNED Website:

1. How would you assess the power relations among the different characters? In what ways are the different characters empowered and disempowered?

2. How do you assess Margaret’s behavior?  How do you assess her portrayal? 

3. How do you interpret the ending of this story?  Do you think that Margaret actually meant to kill her husband?  Why do you think she responds to Wilson’s accusations the way that she does?     

4. Based on this story, how does Hemingway understand a meaningfully lived life?  On what do you base this assessment?  Does his story make a convincing “argument” for that orientation towards life?

5. What are the circumstances of Macomber’s epiphany?  What are the implications of this particular description of how he finds “it”?

6. Is this story sexist?  Why or why not?  Is that a problem?  Why or why not?

 --from GNED website