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 standing his ground before a charging buffalo. Just as he takes aim, however, he is felled by a gunshot from his wife.
Margaret Macomber’s love for her husband is debatable at best. She seems much more interested in flirting with their guide, Robert Wilson, than in encouraging her husband. In fact, she is brazen and unabashed about her sexual dalliance with Wilson and taunts her husband with it. Hemingway writes that she is “an extremely handsome and well-kept woman.” The phrase “well-kept” is particularly revealing in its multiple meanings. On one hand, Margot is fashionable and presents herself well. Furthermore, she is “kept” by her husband in a state of luxurious affluence. Ironically, she is not “well-kept” by her husband at all, as she freely and unapologetically commits adultery. Her marriage to Francis Macomber is obviously not a happy one, but, as Hemingway writes, “Margot was too beautiful for Macomber to divorce her.” She is critical, abrasive and petulant. She shoots and kills her husband just as he is standing his ground in a moment of danger, but the reader is left to consider whether this final act is one of concern that arises from love or pity, or of convenience that arises from hate and disdain. That Margot is spoiled is certain. Whether she is a cold-blooded murderer has been the subject of critical debate for decades.
See Margaret Macomber
Robert Wilson is the Macombers’ guide during their hunting expedition, a man Hemingway refers to as “the white hunter.” His two most striking character traits are symbolized by his “very red face and extremely cold blue eyes.” His red face indicates that he is sanguine and bold, his skin sunburned by his constant exposure to the elements of nature. He is also focused, cool, and analytical, even while facing the extreme danger of the hunt. When Macomber wounds a lion but does not kill it, Wilson insists that they go into the brush to find and kill it, in spite of the dangers presented by tracking a wounded, and therefore crazed, lion. He is the epitome of a manhood that Francis Macomber lacks but Margaret Macomber desires. After Wilson sleeps with her and realizes that Mr. Macomber is aware of this transgression, he thinks to himself, “Let him keep her where she belongs. It’s his own fault.” His contempt for his employer does not keep him from accepting his money, however. His purpose is to provide Macomber with the illusion of being a great sportsman himself, a master over nature like Wilson. Nevertheless, it is Wilson who remains in control of the hunt, a fact demonstrated when it is revealed that Wilson is the only one who can speak to the Macombers in their own language.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Ernest Hemingway, Published by Gale, 1997.