The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber
by Ernest Hemingway
Margaret "Margot" Macomber (a.k.a. "Memsahib," the Indian word for the wife of a white official)
Margot is not an easy character to like. She is considered by some critics to be a predator, vicious, even villainous, and a murderer, and we can see why. One of the first things we discover about her is this:
She was an extremely handsome and well-kept woman of the beauty and social position which had, five years before, commanded five thousand dollars as the price of endorsing, with photographs, a beauty product which she had never used. (1.13)
She's gorgeous, sure, but she is also, according to Wilson, "enamelled in that American female cruelty." When her husband isn't able to finish off the lion, Margot cheats on him and doesn't seem to give two hoots about doing so (and it appears as though this was not the first time she has two-timed the poor guy). Honestly, it seems like she might think cheating on Macomber is just a part of his punishment for being a coward. But hey, that's just a theory, and as with many theories about Hemingway stories, we can't quite prove it.
The shooting of her husband is even more ambiguous. We know she was disgusted with Macomber's cowardice, but does that mean she killed him on purpose, as Wilson suggests she has? Given the short time we have had to get to know Margot, there is simply no way to know for sure. Hemingway has given us a complex character indeed.
In many ways, we might think of her as a femme fatale-type. She loves her husband not one bit, but she sure does love his money. She's a knockout, and she uses those looks to make dough and seduce men who aren't her husband.
There's no doubt about it – she kicks her husband around. But that puts her in an oddly vulnerable position at the end of the story. What disturbs her so much is that Macomber is no longer a miserable and vulnerable wretch. His victory over the buffalo has made him strong and happy, and that puts her position in their relationship at risk:
"You've gotten awfully brave, awfully suddenly," his wife said contemptuously, but her contempt was not secure. She was very afraid of something.
Of what, Margot? The buffalo? Probably not. More likely she is scared because her husband has finally earned the courage to kick her to the curb. He no longer needs her good looks to boost his confidence; he can do that all on his own.
Why Did She Do It?
This brings us all the way back around to her shooting at the buffalo (or her husband). Was she trying to protect her husband, a source of status and wealth for her? Or was she trying to end the guy's life because she no longer had control over him? We'll never know, but we can surely discuss it 'til the buffaloes come home.
It's important to remember that we learn about Margot through the eyes of Macomber and Wilson. Macomber sees her as a "bitch" and Wilson regards her as beautiful and cruel. To him, she is a typical American woman, one of "the hardest, the cruelest, the most predatory and the most attractive" (1.75). It's possible that if we had the chance to jump inside Margot's head and see the world from her perspective, we might be able to understand her motivations a bit more. In fact, we might even be able to sympathize with her, which is something we are hard pressed to do while seeing the world through Macomber's and Wilson's eyes.Timeline