Study Guide

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber Quotes

  • Men and Masculinity

    "He is a good lion, isn't he?" Macomber said. His wife looked at him now. She looked at both these men as though she had never seen them before. (1.14)

    Margot is not impressed by their hunting dialogue. She's shocked that they can pretend that Macomber's cowardice was anything but a big fat failure.

    One, Wilson, the white hunter, she knew she had never truly seen before. He was about middle height with sandy hair, a stubby mustache, a very red face and extremely cold blue eyes with faint white wrinkles at the corners that grooved merrily when he smiled. (1.14)

    Wilson is seriously weathered and wears his masculinity like a mask. Margot looks at him like he is a stranger – not necessarily because he is, but because his behavior is so alien to her. She seems more used to the smoother, more boyish American types.

    Francis Macomber was very tall, very well built if you did not mind that length of bone, dark, his hair cropped like an oarsman, rather thin-lipped, and was considered handsome. He was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new, he was thirty-five years old, kept himself very fit, was good at court games, had a number of big-game fishing records […] (1.17).

    Hemingway gives us a glimpse of what others think of Macomber. The man is good-looking and sporty, but his new clothes give him away. They're too crisp and clean. Instead of looking like a seasoned hunter, he ends up looking like a model from a Ralph Lauren commercial – everything just <em>so</em>.

    He had decided now that to break would be much easier. He would eat, then, by himself and could read a book with his meals. They would eat by themselves. He would see them through the safari on a very formal basis-what was it the French called it? Distinguished consideration-and it would be a damn sight easier than having to go through this emotional trash. (1.63)

    Wilson is seriously reconsidering his interactions with his clients, and can you blame them? The Macombers bring more drama than a Shakespeare play. Plus, we can't forget: no matter whom he sleeps with or befriends, Wilson is in this for the money.

    "I bolted like a rabbit," Macomber said.

    Now what in hell were you going to do about a man who talked like that, Wilson wondered. (1.66-67)

    Macomber's emotional honesty is seriously disturbing to Wilson. He would <em>never</em> admit to such feelings. Given that kind of confession, Wilson doesn't even know how to deal with Macomber. We wonder why he doesn't just tell the guy to buck up and move on.

    Wilson looked at Macomber with his flat, blue, machinegunner's eyes and the other smiled back at him. (1.68)

    Wilson has that sun-dried, seen-it-all, manly look. He embodies the gun-toting hunter, unlike Macomber, who looks like someone playing dress-up. The clothes don't make the man; the experience does.

    […] lying alone, he did not know the Somali proverb that says a brave man is always frightened three times by a lion; when he first sees his track, when he first hears him roar and when he first confronts him. (2.11)

    The night before the hunt, Macomber already felt deep fear about the lion. Perhaps he would have been comforted to know that everyone who hunted lion experienced such anticipation – or perhaps not. Either way, it does <em>not</em> end well.

    Robert Wilson came up then carrying his short, ugly, shockingly big-bored .505 Gibbs and grinning. (2.58)

    Wilson fears nothing. For every bit of mortification Macomber feels about hunting, Robert feels pleasure. We can't help thinking that Hemingway would be proud.

    "I'll keep you backed up. As a matter of fact, you know, perhaps you'd better not go. It might be much better. Why don't you go over and join the Memsahib while I just get it over with?" (2.121)

    <em>I got this, dude</em>. Wilson lets Macomber know that he will finish the job. This backup is a source of comfort <em>and</em> humiliation to Macomber, which definitely leaves him with something to prove.

    He knew about that, about motorcycles-that was earliest-about motor cars, about duck-shooting, about fishing, trout, salmon and big-sea, about sex in books, many books, too many books, about all court games, about dogs, not much about horses, about hanging on to his money, about most of the other things his world dealt in, and about his wife not leaving him. (3.17)

    Macomber has always found security in knowing certain things: that his wife is a knockout, that he's rich, that he knows what someone of his social status should know. Everything, that is, except how to hunt.

  • Courage

    He was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new, he was thirty-five years old, kept himself very fit, was good at court games, had a number of big-game fishing records, and had just shown himself, very publicly, to be a coward. (1.17)

    Hemingway really sets up the reader here, giving us this elaborate description of a handsome and capable man only to deflate the entire description by telling us he's a coward. His sentence structure suggests that no matter how handsome or successful he is, he can never make up for his public humiliation.

    So he's a bloody four-letter man as well as a bloody coward, he thought. (1.61)

    Wilson can hardly believe Macomber. The guy is a coward and a blabbermouth? That's a double-whammy of awful for our manly man. In Wilson's world, you keep your mouth shut if you blow it.

    […] as Francis Macomber lay on his cot with the mosquito bar over him and listened to the night noises it was not all over. It was neither all over nor was it beginning. It was there exactly as it happened with some parts of it indelibly emphasized and he was miserably ashamed at it. But more than shame he felt cold, hollow fear in him. The fear was still there like a cold slimy hollow in all the emptiness where once his confidence had been and it made him feel sick. It was still there with him now. (2.9)

    Macomber was doomed long before he saw the whites of the lion's eyes. The nightlong dread put him at a distinct disadvantage during the hunt. It isn't at all what he expected, and his courage is already drained from him before he even has a chance to use it.

    It had started the night before when he had wakened and heard the lion roaring somewhere up along the river. (2.10)

    Macomber lets fear get the best of him. His act of cowardice is not a one-time thing. It was long coming and corrosive.

    "What range will it be?"

    "Can't tell. Lion has something to say about that. Won't shoot unless it's close enough so you can make sure."

    "At under a hundred yards?" Macomber asked.

    Wilson looked at him quickly. (2.23-26)

    Poor Macomber. He tries to comfort himself by finding out how far he'll be from the lion when he shoots him. Wilson can already sense that something is wrong here, and check out his manly way of speaking. He doesn't even bother using an article in the first sentence, or a subject in the second. He's too busy thinking about the hunt.

    "It's that damned roaring," she said. "It's been going on all night, you know."

    "Why didn't you wake me, she said. I'd love to have heard it. (2.41-42)

    Margot begins needling Macomber when she hears that he has been up all night scared. She subtly puts him down by suggesting that the lion's roar would have delighted her. All right, Margot, we're calling your bluff.

    Macomber opened the breech of his rifle and saw had metal-cased bullets, shut the bolt and put the rifle on safety. He saw his hand was trembling. (2.63)

    Guns and shaky hands? Not a pretty combination, folks. It's the moment he has been waiting for, but the signs are not good. Never mind aiming. Will he even be able to pull the trigger?

    He only knew his hands were shaking and as he walked away from the car it was almost impossible for him to make his legs move. They were stiff in the thighs, but he could feel the muscles fluttering. He raised the rifle, sighted on the junction of the lion's head and shoulders and pulled the trigger. (2.75)

    Macomber has this thing about the car. He feels safe in it. On his own two feet he becomes a quivering mess, because he has no steel cage to protect him. His body is rebelling against his ego.

    "I don't want to go in there," said Macomber. It was out before he knew he'd said it.

    "Neither do I," said Wilson very cheerily. "Really no choice though." Then, as an afterthought, he glanced at Macomber and saw suddenly how he was trembling and the pitiful look on his face. (2.106-107)

    Macomber admits what no real man would: he is afraid. Of course he wouldn't <em>want</em> to go face the lion, but that's what you must do when you're hunting. Isn't that what courage is? Facing your fears and pushing through them?

    The next thing he knew he was running; running wildly, in panic in the open, running toward the stream. (3.6)

    Again, Macomber's body does all the talking. He is functioning on pure instinct at this point. It's fight or flight, and he has chosen flight, much to Margot's dismay.

  • Violence

    "Do you still have them whipped?"

    "Oh, yes. They could raise a row if they chose to complain. But they don't. They prefer it to the fines." (1.54-55)

    Wilson's words suggest that in Africa, people live by a whole different set of rules. Violence is part of life – it is even accepted – and so men don't fear it as they do in Macomber's world. According to Wilson, they would rather be whipped than lose money. This strikes Shmoop as a rather callous way to justify his own abusive behavior.

    "I've dropped the whole thing," she said, sitting down at the table. "What importance is there to whether Francis is any good at killing lions? That's not his trade. That's Mr. Wilson's trade. Mr. Wilson is really very impressive killing anything. You do kill anything, don't you?" (1.74)

    Margot is one tough lady. She cuts her husband off at the knees with one quick remark and doesn't let Wilson get off scot-free either. But at the same time that she mocks the whole macho-men-proving-themselves bit, she participates in the system by punishing Macomber for his failure to perform. From moment to moment, we do not know what to make of her.

    "You're very mistaken," she told him. "And I want so to see you perform again. You were lovely this morning. That is if blowing things' heads off is lovely." (1.85)

    Here's another example of Margot having it both ways: notice how she makes the hunting thing seem like a silly display of manliness, but also seems to agree that those who fail in this system are losers who should be punished. She seems to dislike the violence of it, but is disappointed that her husband is not better at the violence, too.

    "I've got to kill the damned thing," Macomber said, miserably. (2.43)

    Macomber is changing his mind about hunting. Hearing the lion's roar all night doesn't empower him; it wears him down. But hey, we will be the first to admit that we would not be feeling to gung-ho after hearing that racket all night, either.

    "You'll kill him marvelously," she said. "I know you will. I'm awfully anxious to see it." (2.50)

    Here we see Margot's direct participation in the game of macho display. She wants Macomber to prove himself and she wants to be there to watch. Or is she being sarcastic? We can't tell if she is drawn to the violence, or disgusted by it.

    There was dark blood on the short grass that the gun-bearers pointed out with grass stems, and that ran away behind the river bank trees. (2.92)

    Macomber didn't count on the mercy-killing part of the hunt. Part of the code is that you can't leave a lion in misery, but that means you have to follow the blood trail and witness the gory mess you have caused.

    "For one thing, he's certain to be suffering. For another, some one else might run on to him." (2.117)

    It's hard to think of Wilson as a softie, but he sure does not want the lion to suffer. Macomber is a little more into self-preservation and less concerned about having anything to prove. He has had enough violence for the day, thank you very much.

    He heard the ca-ra-wong! of Wilson's big rifle, and again in a second crashing carawong! and turning saw the lion, horrible-looking now, with half his head seeming to be gone, crawling toward Wilson in the edge of the tall grass while the red-faced man worked the belt on the short ugly rifle and aimed carefully as another blasting carawong! came from the muzzle, and the crawling, heavy, yellow bulk of the lion stiffened and the huge, mutilated head slid forward. (3.7)

    Wilson saves Macomber, shooting like the professional that he is. Then, Macomber must face the "enemy" in the form of a disfigured and bloody lion. It's a chaotic, gory scene with all the adrenaline that comes with witnessing a quick, violent death.

    Hope the silly beggar doesn't take a notion to blow the back of my head off, Wilson thought to himself. Women <em>are</em> a nuisance on safari. (3.90)

    Wilson briefly frets about the possibility that Macomber's fear of shooting does not include human prey. After sleeping with Margot, Wilson for once feels pretty worried that he might take a bullet himself. Perhaps Macomber should have been the one to be scared of such a death.

    "Why didn't you poison him? That's what they do in England" (4.57)

    Wilson refuses to comfort Margot in any way. Instead, he torments her by suggesting that she just committed murder – the sloppy way, at that. He doesn't seem bothered by the violence of it, but rather the mess he will have to clean up.

  • Women and Femininity

    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)

    At one point, Margot's beauty actually earned her quite a bit of money. Now she has money <em>and</em> social clout. But what would happen if she lost those? What would be left?

    "Women upset," said Wilson to the tall man. "Amounts to nothing. Strain on the nerves and one thing'n another." (1.37)

    To the white hunter, women are just an inconvenience. That does not stop him from having a fling with her, though. He lives life on his terms, and as long as there are no strings attached, he does not care about all the drama.

    "Here comes the Memsahib," he said. She was walking over from her tent looking refreshed and cheerful and quite lovely. She had a very perfect oval face, so perfect that you expected her to be stupid. But she wasn't stupid, Wilson thought, no, not stupid. (1.71)

    Part of what makes Margot so powerful is that, in addition to being drop dead gorgeous, she is also whip smart. Wilson is surprised, by this, but also maybe a little intrigued?

    They are, he thought, the hardest in the world; the hardest, the cruelest, the most predatory and the most attractive and their men have softened or gone to pieces nervously as they have hardened. Or is it that they pick men they can handle? (1.75)

    When a hunter calls a woman a predator, you need to pay attention. Wilson's attitude toward Margot gives you the idea that he has had a few experiences with American women before, and they were not good ones, that's for sure.

    When she left, Wilson was thinking, when she went off to cry, she seemed a hell of a fine woman. She seemed to understand, to realize, to be hurt for him and for herself and to know how things really stood. (1.82)

    Margot's tough act finally cracks. By crying, she compels Wilson to consider that there might be more to her than he first thought. She is beautiful, and definitely wise to the situation, which means she is much more than just a pretty face. Plus, it seems like she has something to lose.

    So, Robert Wilson thought to himself, she is giving him a ride, isn't she? Or do you suppose that's her idea of putting up a good show? How should a woman act when she discovers her husband is a bloody coward? She's damn cruel but they're all cruel. They govern, of course, and to govern one has to be cruel sometimes. Still, I've seen enough of their damn terrorism. (1.102)

    In a way, Wilson believes that Macomber deserves Margot's contempt. He thinks that in a marriage, women are in charge – and that power can sometimes be an ugly sight to see. But that's just the way it is, and Wilson is not about to try to defend Macomber.

    While they sat there his wife had reached forward and put her hand on Wilson's shoulder. He turned and she had leaned forward over the low seat and kissed him on the mouth. (3.12)

    Margot uses sexuality as a weapon. Just when Macomber is feeling his worst, his least masculine, he has to watch his wife plant a wet one on another man. That has got to sting.

    His wife had been a great beauty and she was still a great beauty in Africa, but she was not a great enough beauty any more at home to be able to leave him and better herself and she knew it and he knew it. She had missed the chance to leave him and he knew it. If he had been better with women she would probably have started to worry about him getting another new, beautiful wife; but she knew too much about him to worry about him either. (3.17)

    Margot was beautiful but the power of that beauty is fading. Still, she thinks Macomber is a wimp and would never find another woman even if he wanted to. In fact, it seems like they are both stuck. Margot knows she can't nab another man because her looks are starting to go, and Macomber isn't confident enough to go out and find another woman. Nope, it appears this is the best they both can do.

    "Out to get a breath of air."

    "That's a new name for it. You are a bitch."

    "Well, you're coward." (3.28-30)

    Wow, what a lovely exchange. They have an unspoken language in which calling each other crude names speaks volumes about the power shift between them. Margot justifies her infidelity by calling her husband a wimp. It's cruel, but effective. She goes right to sleep and he is left stewing.

    He had hunted for a certain clientele, the international, fast, sporting set, where the women did not feel they were getting their money's worth unless they had shared that cot with the white hunter. (3.93)

    Part of Wilson's job is to please the wives who go on the safaris with their bumbling husbands. He has been through this all before and knows how to make his clients happy – even if it's unethical.

  • Marriage

    "I'll have a gimlet too. I need something," Macomber's wife said. (1.4).

    After the scene out in the field, everyone needs a drink. That's what you do when you are a Hemingway character, after all – you have gin and lime juice before lunch. Having a cocktail is easier than having a real conversation, especially one with your husband.

    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. She had been married to Francis Macomber for eleven years. (1.13).

    Hemingway breaks down the marriage in two sentences: they both get something out of it – but she doesn't have as much as she used to. Looks like we're headed for rough waters, then.

    "Let's not talk about the lion," she said. (1.20)

    Like stereotypical married couples, the Macombers want to avoid the tough stuff. In this case, they want to avoid Macomber's failure to shoot a lion point-blank with no experience. Of course, we know that the lion is not <em>just</em> a lion. It's a big ugly embarrassing problem because it represents a greater failing on Macomber's part: the dude is a wimp.

    Margot looked at them both and they both saw that she was going to cry. Wilson had seen it coming for a long time and he dreaded it. Macomber was past dreading it. (1.35)

    Macomber is clearly used to the tears, but Wilson can't deal. It's a rare vulnerable moment for Margot, but it creates ripple-like reactions in the men. Notice that Macomber does not try to comfort his wife. He just lets her run off, upset.

    "No," said Macomber. "I suppose that I rate that for the rest of my life now." (1.38)

    Macomber anticipates that Margot will be punishing him for a good long time. He knows his wife, and she is more than just "a strain on the nerves," as Robert puts it. But Wilson has never had to deal with a wife. He doesn't know what it's like to face the same person day in and day out.

    Then he felt embarrassed at asking it and before Macomber could answer he went on, "We all take a beating every day, you know, one way or another." (1.58)

    Wilson makes a half-hearted attempt to console Macomber. Sure, everyone is punished in some way, but not <em>everyone</em> is punished by Margot. She has a uniquely tough approach.

    "Why not let up on the bitchery just a little, Margot," Macomber said, cutting the eland steak and putting some mashed potato, gravy and carrot on the down-turned fork that tined through the piece of meat.

    "I suppose I could," she said, "since you put it so prettily." (1.98-1.99)

    Macomber doesn't let his wife's bad attitude get in the way of enjoying his meal. These two are clearly not strangers to unpleasant exchanges. Oh, and you have got to give props to Macomber for making up a brand new word: "bitchery." Although we can't help but think that this one might have been better left unsaid.

    "It's not very pleasant to have your wife see you do something like that."

    I should think it would be even more unpleasant to do it, Wilson thought, wife or no wife, or the talk about it having done it. But he said, "I wouldn't think about that any more. Any one could be upset by his first lion. That's all over." (2.8-2.9)

    Wilson tries his best to put Macomber's mind at ease, but he will only go so far when it comes to helping a client. We're guessing he sees this kind of marital trouble all the time, and he knows it's best to stay above the fray.

    Macomber's wife had not looked at him nor he at her and he had sat by her in the back seat with Wilson sitting in the front seat. Once he had reached over and taken his wife's hand without looking at her and she had removed her hand from his. (3.12)

    Margot sends some not-too-subtle signals that she is unhappy with Macomber. She seems to be physically repulsed by him. Either that or she is a really good actress.

    He did not know how his wife felt except that she was through with him.

    His wife had been through with him before but it never lasted. He was very wealthy, and would be much wealthier, and he knew she would not leave him ever now. That was one of the few things that he really knew. (3.16-3.17)

    Macomber doesn't seem too worried about his wife's bad behavior. If there's one thing she likes more than macho men, it's money. Honestly, their marriage is so awful, it doesn't seem like there is any love lost between them when she strays. The only real problem is Macomber's bruised ego.

    All in all they were known as a comparatively happily married couple, one of those whose disruption is often rumored but never occurs, and as the society columnist put it, they were adding more than a spice of adventure to their much envied and ever enduring romance by a Safari in what was known as Darkest Africa […] But they always made it up. They had a sound basis of union. Margot was too beautiful for Macomber to divorce her and Macomber had too much money for Margot ever to leave him. (3.18)

    Macomber and Margot are a big enough deal to be in the society pages. <em>Oh la la. </em>This also means that they probably have a certain image to maintain. Everyone knows what's going on between them, so they had better keep up appearances. This also means that in the end, we know that Margot is about to have her name and picture on a whole lot of front pages with suspicious, accusatory headlines. We almost feel bad for her. Almost.