The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber
by Ernest Hemingway
Adventure, Drama, Literary Fiction
Lions, buffalo, safaris, big guns, and big manly men. Sounds like an adventure, right? Right. This is literally a story of a hunt, with all the thrills and challenges that go with it. The lion presents a formidable foe to the protagonist and leads him on a chase that threatens to be fatal for more than just one of them. The twist on the adventure genre comes when our protagonist does not get his prey; in fact, he ends up as the prey himself. The exciting risk of the adventure story is certainly there, but the "hero" doesn't actually prevail.
To the extent that dialogue plays an important role, this story is definitely a drama. In fact, if they weren't out on the plains of Africa, you could almost imagine the characters as actors on a stage, what with the zingers they keep throwing back and forth. In fact this story was adapted from both the radio and the big screen. And why not? It has all the psychological depth and life threatening situations you could ask for in a nice, juicy drama. The conflicts are sharp and pronounced, and the characters undergo amazing transformations precisely because of the story's balance between deep dialogue and harrowing action. We're on the edge of our seats.
Where the story stops being part of the adventure genre, it begins to be literary fiction. That's because this story is so much more than "adding […] a spice of adventure to their much envied and ever-enduring Romance by a Safari in what was known as 'Darkest Africa'" (3.18). In fact, we can imagine that while Macomber was expecting to be a part of an adventure story, he ended up smack dab in the middle of a literary fiction piece, what with his fraught relationship with his wife and his shame at his own cowardice.
Plus, Hemingway plays with traditional story structures by mucking up the chronology and going back and forth in time. He's willing to let the reader do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to figuring out what is really going on. Maybe that's why teachers love to toss a little Hemingway at their students. There's adventure, sure, and drama, too, but there is also a lot of reading to be done. You don't get much more literary than that.