Study Guide

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber Marriage

By Ernest Hemingway


"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 b****ery 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: "b****ery." 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.