Study Guide

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber Violence

By Ernest Hemingway


"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.