The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber Analysis

Ernest Hemingway

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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

(Short Stories for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 408 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

"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,...

(The entire section is 369 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

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


(The entire section is 138 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

  • 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...

(The entire section is 101 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

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

(The entire section is 37 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

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

(The entire section is 180 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

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

(The entire section is 229 words.)


(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 York: Continuum, 1990.

Hotchner, A. E. Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir. New ed. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999.

Meyers, Jeffrey. Hemingway: A Biography. 1985. Reprint. New York: Da Capo Press, 1999.

Padura Fuentes, Leonardo. Adiós Hemingway. Translated by John King. New York: Canongate, 2005.

Reynolds, Michael. The Young Hemingway. New York: Blackwell, 1986.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Paris Years. New York: Blackwell, 1989.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Homecoming. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The 1930’s. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: The Final Years. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.

Rovit, Earl, and Arthur Waldhorn, eds. Hemingway and Faulkner in Their Time. New York: Continuum, 2005.

Wagner-Martin, Linda, ed. Hemingway: Seven Decades of Criticism. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1998.