Francis Macomber is a man of enough wealth that he can afford a private, guided hunting trip in Africa. He is a man of questionable courage who is more comfortable shooting from the car than stalking his prey on foot. His humiliation at being cuckolded prompts him to an act of foolish bravery that reveals in its outcome his wife’s lack of faith in him. His marriage to Margot is not a happy one, but Hemingway tells us that “Macomber had too much money for Margot ever to leave him.” After he flees from a lion that he has wounded, his wife sleeps with their guide, Robert Wilson. Hemingway’s statement that Macomber “was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new” illustrates the essential difference between these two men. Wilson is what Macomber pretends to be—a hunter and, at least in the eyes of Margot Macomber, a man. Macomber tries to rectify this by . . . Read More
“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” opens with Francis Macomber, his wife, Margaret (known as Margot), and Robert Wilson preparing for lunch at their camp in Africa. The Macombers are a wealthy and socially prominent American couple in Africa on a safari. Wilson is a professional hunter, paid to guide their adventures. The three begin discussing the morning’s hunt. This topic appears to cause them some discomfort, and soon the source of their discomfort is revealed: while stalking a lion, Francis Macomber panicked and ran. He is embarrassed about it, and Wilson tries to reassure him. Wilson actually has little respect for Macomber, but hides this fact. Margot, however, makes several sarcastic references to the incident.
Later that afternoon Francis and Wilson go hunting again, and Francis shows skill in shooting an impala. He is still ashamed of having shown cowardice when confronting the lion, though. That night he lies on his cot remembering . . . Read More
In “The Secret Sharer,” Joseph Conrad tells the story of two simultaneous journeys: the literal sea journey and the young captain’s journey toward self discovery. That his ship barely gets underway in the final pages of the story is an indication of which of the two journeys Conrad found most interesting. The young captain of the unnamed ship, who has just taken command of the vessel, and who, in his own words, is “somewhat of a stranger” to himself is given the opportunity and incentive to embark on his own journey toward self-knowledge. Conrad uses a double for the captain, to force him to look into his “self” from the outside, and to journey through his own darker side towards a greater understanding of himself. Only after completing this journey will the young captain be capable of leading his skeptical crew on a literal journey.
The opening paragraph of the story suggests that the captain’s path to self-knowledge will not . . . Read More
Initiation and Self-Definition
The captain in “The Secret Sharer’ undergoes a process of initiation and self-definition. When confronted with the duties and responsibilities of a captain, he is not only overwhelmed but also impressed with all the responsibilities that he has taken on. He is constantly looking for reassurance from his crew that he is doing fine. He learns from Leggatt that in order to be a good leader he has to be more aggressive, more intuitive and more direct. Conrad’s captain is exploring various ways is which to define himself; he must come to terms with his aggressiveness or else risks falling into insanity.
The captain and Leggatt act as mirror images of each other, or as each others doppelgangers, as “the other” is sometimes called in literature. They both have titles that command respect, they both are young, and they both are from . . . Read More
“The Secret Sharer,” one of Polish-born Joseph Conrad’s more widely read sea stories, is a psychological tale narrated by a young ship captain who finds himself harboring a fugitive from another ship. As the story opens, the narrator has just taken command of his first ship, which is anchored in the Gulf of Siam. The captain reveals the extent of his insecurity at the beginning of this long voyage, comparing himself to the ship itself: “we seemed to be measuring our fitness for a long and arduous enterprise, the appointed task of both our existences to be carried out.” Recognizing that this journey will be the opportunity he needs to test himself, he assumes an uneasy command of a considerably older and more experienced crew.
Much to the astonishment of his crew, the captain decides to take a five-hour watch himself the first night while they remain at anchor waiting for enough wind to begin sailing. Although another ship, the Sephora is . . . Read More
Walter Mitty is one of literature’s great dreamers. He spends much of his time escaping into fantasies in which he is brilliant and heroic, and his life is dramatic and adventurous. The enduring popularity of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is undoubtedly due in great part to readers’ ability to identify with Mitty; after all, most of us find our lives at times mundane and unsatisfying, and use daydreams to enter a more interesting world.
Mitty is, of course, an extreme case when it comes to daydreaming. In the single afternoon covered by the story’s action, he imagines he is a prominent surgeon operating on a millionaire; a skilled marksman providing testimony in a sensational trial; a courageous warrior of the air (twice); and a condemned man bravely facing a firing squad.
Numerous critics have pointed to Mitty as a prime example of modern man, trapped in a world that is full of dull responsibilities and offers few . . . Read More
“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was first published in 1939, the year World War II bega German troops invaded Poland, the Germans and the Soviets signed a Nazi-Soviet nonagression pact, and Germany and Italy formed the Pact of Steel Alliance. While the Axis powers were consolidating, Britain and France declared war on Germany. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared U.S. neutrality in the war, but the United States entered the war in 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt, at the suggestion of Albert Einstein, ordered a U.S. effort to build an atomic bomb. In Spain, the forces of fascist Francisco Franco captured Madrid, ending the Spanish Civil War. While Walter Mitty, a middle-aged man, dreams of being a captain in the First World War, the dream is triggered by his reading an article intimating World War II in Liberty magazine entitled, “Can Germany Conquer the World Through the Air?” . . . Read More
In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Thurber tells the story of Walter Mitty, a man who lives in a dream world to escape from the routines and humiliations he suffers in everyday life. The action takes place over the course of a single day, during which Walter Mitty and his wife go on their weekly shopping trip. Walter slips into his daydreams, only to be awakened when he has made an error in judgment, such as speeding or driving on the wrong side of the road.
Thurber has carefully constructed the story’s narrative to connect Mitty’s “secret life” with his external life. In the first dream sequence, Walter is a naval commander who sails his hydroplane at full speed to avoid a hurricane. The dream abruptly ends when his wife admonishes him for driving too quickly, implying that Walter’s dream led to his speeding. The second dream begins when his wife notes that he is tense, and . . . Read More
Walter Mitty is an ordinary character who fills his mind with fantasies in which he plays the hero, saves lives, navigates enemy territory, and proves his masculinity.
Success and Failure
The theme of success and failure is examined through Mitty’s inability to live a fulfilling external life, which causes him to retreat to an internal life full of images of conquest. Walter Mitty is neither exciting nor successful in his everyday life. In fact, the world Mitty lives in seems hellish to him. His wife’s nagging voice awakens him from one dream. Like his wife, parking lot attendants and policemen admonish him, and women at the grocery store laugh at him. A bumbling, ineffectual man scorned by others, he feels humiliated by the knowing grins of garage mechanics who know he cannot take the chains off his car’s tires. To avoid their sneers, he imagines taking the car into the garage with his arm in a sling so . . . Read More
As “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” begins, a military officer orders an airplane crew to proceed with a flight through a dangerous storm. The crew members are scared but are buoyed by their commander’s confidence, and they express their faith in him. Suddenly, the setting switches to an ordinary highway, where Walter Mitty and his wife are driving into a city to run errands. The scene on the airplane is revealed to be one of Mitty’s many fantasies.
Mitty’s wife observes that he seems tense, and when he drops her off in front of a hair styling salon, she reminds him to go buy overshoes and advises him to put on his gloves. He drives away toward a parking lot and loses himself in another fantasy. In this daydream he is a brilliant doctor, called upon to perform an operation on a prominent banker. His thoughts are interrupted by the attendant at the parking lot, where Mitty is trying to enter through the exit lane. He has trouble backing out . . . Read More