“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is set in the African savanna, to which Mr. and Mrs. Macomber have come on a hunting expedition, led by Robert Wilson. The hunting expedition ends in tragedy when Mr. Macomber stands his ground before a charging buffalo and is shot by his wife.
A great deal of symbolism contributes to the meaning of this story. The dichotomy of camp and savanna serves as a symbol of the differences that exist between Macomber and Robert Wilson. To leave the camp is to leave the world of comfort and luxury that the Macombers normally enjoy. The savanna represents Wilson’s world, the wild, savage force of nature. The lion and the buffalo, representations of nature itself in all its brutal force, also come to symbolize the differences in courage and manhood that exist between Macomber and Wilson. Similarly, the guns themselves operate as symbols of manhood.
Point of View
The story is told in third-person point of view, meaning that it is related by a narrator who is not a part of the action of the story. This point of view allows the author to describe events in an objective manner. For example, Hemingway can simultaneously present Margot’s insistence on her innocence and Wilson’s belief that she is not innocent. It is the author’s third-person narrative point of view, where the narrator does not always know what is going on in the minds of the characters he presents, that allows this ambiguity. No one but Margot Macomber can be certain of her guilt or innocence, and the narrator, who does not have access to this information, does not settle the debate.
Irony is an essential element of this story. The most obvious and striking example of irony is the title itself. Certainly, Macomber’s life is “short,” but is it “happy” ? It is also ironic that his wife, the very person who should protect him, is the cause of his death. Furthermore, the fact that it may have been her impulse to protect Macomber which destroys him makes the climax of the story ironic. Hemingway uses irony to provide enough ambiguity in the narrative for the outcome of the story to be unclear.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Ernest Hemingway, Published by Gale, 1997.