Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” includes several of Ernest Hemingway’s important themes and introduces characters typical of his work. This is a story of a man’s coming of age, but it also presents something of Hemingway’s attitude toward “the code” for which he is famous, his views on women, and the value he placed on the life of action. Each of the main characters can illustrate one of these themes.
Robert Wilson, the white hunter, is an archetypal Hemingway hero. He lives a life of action—a manly life—that is governed by a code that he never states, but which is his standard for judging his own as well as others’ behavior. Sportsmanship, courage, and “grace under pressure” are the hallmarks of Wilson’s behavior. His professionalism is more than simply an attitude; it is a philosophy that governs his life. To him, it is morally unthinkable that he might leave a dangerously wounded animal in the bush, talk about his clients behind their backs, or otherwise violate the unspoken contracts of his trade. His philosophy, however, is expressed in action, not words, and he is suspicious of those who, like Macomber, ruin an experience by too much talk. He respects men who, like himself, can face danger courageously, certain that death is less to be feared than a coward’s life.
Francis Macomber is described as one of “the great American boy-men,” the sort of men who are likely to remain immature throughout...
(The entire section is 508 words.)
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“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” explores a number of important themes. Francis Macomber and his wife are on a hunting expedition in Africa. Their guide is Robert Wilson. Macomber is eager to impress his wife, whom he sees as attracted to Wilson. However, Macomber is not the same kind of man Wilson is. He is not a hunter by trade or by nature, and his struggle to overcome this difference results in his death.
Courage and Cowardice
It is perhaps misleading to characterize two of the important themes of this work as “courage” and “cowardice.” Certainly, these are both major themes of the story, but Hemingway invites the reader to consider whether courage is confused with bravado, and reasonable fear with cowardice. Depending upon one’s point of view, Francis Macomber’s fear of the lion makes him a coward or it makes him a reasonable man. The story inspires an examination of whether it takes more courage to face down the lion or to walk away.
Fate and Chance
If Margot Macomber’s shooting of her husband is an accident, then a central theme of the work becomes fate or chance. The question becomes one of how accidental an accident of this kind can be. In other words, the story asks whether it is really fate or chance—considering that Margot Macomber is inexperienced with a gun and an unskilled shot.
Guilt and Innocence
(The entire section is 727 words.)