Study Guide

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber Men and Masculinity

By Ernest Hemingway

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.