The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber Analysis

Ernest Hemingway

Style and Technique

Hemingway is the best-known stylist in modern American literature, and this story is an excellent example of his method. Understatement is the best term to characterize his writing. Using simple, declarative sentences, he avoids elaborate description, allowing exact physical details to suggest the settings, backgrounds, and implications of his stories. The reader is never told, for example, that Robert Wilson is British, but careful examination of his dialogue reveals his origins. Similarly, in the opening passages of the story, only the words “pretending that nothing had happened” alert the reader to anything out of the ordinary, yet by the time the reader learns that Macomber had been a coward, it comes as no surprise. Through slight intonations of dialogue and description, Hemingway has “shown” its effects before he “tells” about Macomber’s failure.

Hemingway rarely uses symbols overtly, yet subtly they are embedded in the story. Wilson’s admiration of the beasts he hunts, usually expressed in such terse lines as “damned fine lion” or “hell of a good bull,” suggest that these animals embody the qualities that he, and Hemingway, admire most: courage, strength, honesty, and grace under pressure. Ritual is important, too, in Hemingway’s work, and is most emphasized in the hunt itself, which brings out the best in man and animal. In other ways as well, small rituals bring order into the story and structure life into a meaningful whole.

Finally, attention should be paid to Wilson’s speech when he says, “Doesn’t do to talk too much about all this. Talk the whole thing away. No pleasure in anything if you mouth it up too much.” Hemingway shares this basic distrust of language, especially abstract language, so he allows as nearly as possible the action of the story to speak for itself. In “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” his technique succeeds in heightening the power of the story.

Historical Context

Ernest Hemingway on a safari in Africa in 1937 Published by Gale Cengage

Stereotypes of the 1930s
Though Hemingway does not specify when “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” takes...

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Literary Style

"The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" is set in the African savanna, to which Mr. and Mrs. Macomber have come on a hunting expedition,...

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Compare and Contrast

  • 1930s: Big game hunting is a popular sport for Europeans in Africa.


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Topics for Further Study

  • Do you think Margot shot her husband on purpose? Could she have meant to do it, yet still done it by accident? Think of a time when you or...

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Media Adaptations

  • Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” was adapted as a film in 1947 as The Macomber Affair. Produced by...

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What Do I Read Next?

  • Hemingway’s 1926 novel, The Sun Also Rises, like “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,”...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Baker, Carlos. “Dangerous Game.” In his Hemingway: The Writer As Artist, 4th edition. Princeton...

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(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Benson, Jackson J., ed. New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990.

Berman, Ronald. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Twenties. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Ernest Hemingway. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005.

Burgess, Anthony. Ernest Hemingway. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1999.

Flora, Joseph M. Ernest Hemingway: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

Hays, Peter L. Ernest Hemingway. New...

(The entire section is 186 words.)