In Ernest Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," is Wilson really what he claims to be or is he deluding himself?
In Ernest Hemingway’s story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” Robert Wilson is the professional hunter who assists Francis and Margot Macomber on their safari in Africa. Most of the controversy the story has aroused has concerned the concluding death of Francis Macomber, who is shot by Margot as he is being charged by a wild buffalo. Critics have often debated whether Margot deliberately shoots her husband (for whom she feels contempt), or whether she kills him by accident while aiming at the buffalo. Many critics now believe that the shooting is indeed accidental. Wilson suggests otherwise, but Wilson is now increasingly seen as an unreliable commentator.
Indeed, some critics argue that Wilson, despite having slept with Margot, is at the end of the tale trying to intimidate her because he sees her as a threat:
"It seemed very unfair to me," Margot said, "chasing those big helpless things in a motor car."
"Did it?" said Wilson.
"What would happen if they heard about it in Nairobi?"
I’d lose my license for one thing. Other unpleasantnesses," Wilson said, taking a drink from the flask. I’d be out of business."
"Well," said Macomber, and he smiled for the first time all day. "Now she has something on you."
Some critics argue that Wilson, by the end of the story, wants to eliminate Margot as a threat to his career by insinuating that she intentionally shot Francis. He thus now “has something on” her.
In fact, some critics have even suggested that Wilson has arranged the buffalo hunt in such a way that Francis might be shot by Margot. If one or any of these suggestions about Wilson is true, then Wilson is hardly an admirable character. He may be deluding himself about his own traits as a person and as a professional hunter.
Hemingway, as is often the case in his writings, leaves matters somewhat ambiguous. We cannot be entirely sure what Margot’s “real” intentions were, and the character of Wilson is also presented in such a way that we cannot be entirely sure how to assess him. Wilson’s growing respect for Francis Macomber as the story proceeds casts Wilson himself in a somewhat positive light, just as his growing disrespect for Margot makes Wilson seem a more morally complex person than he might otherwise appear. To the extent that we as readers share Wilson’s growing regard for Macomber, we as readers also feel somewhat more positively toward Wilson himself. It should be said, however, that Wilson is the subject of suspicion by growing numbers of critics, who often see him as highly hypocritical.