Critical Overview

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“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is widely regarded as one of Hemingway’s finest pieces of short fiction. Not only has it been admired for its artistry, but it has also been praised for the insights it gives into the mind of its author. For instance, Kathleen Morgan and Luis A. Losada write in “Tracking the Wounded Buffalo: Authorial Knowledge and the Shooting of Francis Macomber” in The Hemingway Review that the story contains evidence of Hemingway’s hunting acumen. They point to his use of hunting jargon and his understanding of the logistics of a charging buffalo to theorize that the narrative’s ambiguities stem from a highly realistic and ballistically accurate situation. Critics more concerned with the literary aspects of the story often choose to focus on the characters of Wilson and Margot rather than Macomber. Margot, particularly, has been branded a murderer by many critics. Edmund Wilson, for example, in his 1941 essay, “Hemingway: Gauge of Morale,” writes that Macomber “saves his soul at the last minute, and then is actually shot down by his woman, who does not want him to have a soul.” However, Nina Baym, in her essay “Actually, I Felt Sorry For the Lion,” argues that readers should shift the blame for the story’s tragic events from Margot to Wilson. Baym does not think that Margot meant to kill her husband, stating instead that “Wilson killed them all. . . . [he] has hunted on behalf of his clients, and he has also hunted them, that is, they have been his prey.” In Baym’s opinion, Wilson feeds on men’s machismo and women’s vanity.

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H. H. Bell, Jr. in his essay for The Explicator makes the observation that “Hemingway is inclined to view Margot Macomber throughout the entire story as something akin to a lioness. In speaking of her, he employs such words as ‘hard,’ ‘cruel,’ and ‘predatory.’” For Bell, it seems, Wilson’s presence and role in the story are highly symbolic. He writes that “the reader is permitted to see Robert Wilson as the complete hunter, as a man who lives by one code and one code only, and who applies this code to both animals and people simply because he knows no other way to live and be honest with himself and with his moral philosophy. Moreover, it is Wilson who thus adds the hunter’s code to the Hemingway code in the story and finally blends the action and the theme of the work in a way that Hemingway rarely does.” Warren...

(The entire section contains 642 words.)

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Essays and Criticism