Study Guide

The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber Women and Femininity

By Ernest Hemingway

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 b****."

"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.