“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 the lion hunt, and the story’s action flashes back to that morning. Francis had been bothered by the lion’s roar the night before, and at breakfast he confesses that he is nervous. The trio set out in their car and stop when they spot a lion. Macomber gets out of the car, still frightened, but he fires three shots, two of which find their mark. The lion bounds away, and Macomber and Wilson follow him, although Macomber is reluctant to kill the beast. Wilson volunteers to take the lead. As they draw near to the lion, the animal charges and Macomber runs in terror. Wilson shoots and kills the lion. After the men return to the car, Margot kisses Wilson. Macomber perceives that his wife has lost all respect for him. This signals new trouble in their marriage; they have known trouble previously, but their marriage has endured for eleven years despite their problems.’ They had a sound basis of union,” Hemingway writes. “Margot was too beautiful for Macomber to divorce her and Macomber had too much money for Margot ever to leave him.”
Macomber finally falls asleep. When he awakens from a nightmare about the lion, he realizes that Margot’s cot is empty. She returns after a couple of hours, and it is apparent that Margot, who has a history of infidelity, has been with Wilson. At breakfast it is equally obvious to Wilson that Macomber knows this. Wilson feels no remorse, however; he believes Macomber has driven Margot to him.
After breakfast the Macombers and Wilson set out to hunt buffalo. Francis Macomber’s anger at Wilson blots out any fear he might have felt, and Macomber goes after the buffalo enthusiastically. He kills the biggest of the three that the hunters encounter, and finishes off another one that Wilson has wounded. The experience thrills Macomber and instills a new confidence in him. Margot points out, however, that the hunters have pursued the buffalo from their car, something that is not only unsportsmanlike but illegal. Her remarks fail to dampen her husband’s spirits, though. Wilson admires Macomber’s new strength and guesses that he will no longer tolerate Margot’s infidelity. Margot appears to feel threatened by the change in her husband.
Before they have much time for contemplation, they must go after the third buffalo, which has been wounded. Wilson outlines for Macomber the best shot with which to kill the buffalo. The animal comes charging out of the bush and Macomber stands firm, shooting, until the buffalo is nearly upon him. At that instant Macomber is shot in the head by his wife and killed instantly. According to the narrator, she “shot at the buffalo … as it seemed about to gore Macomber and had hit her husband.” Wilson thinks, though, that Macomber was Margot’s target all along. The story ends with Margot sobbing as Wilson assures her the outside world will believe her husband’s death was an accident, but he lets her know that he believes it was murder.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Ernest Hemingway, Published by Gale, 1997.