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Title:
HemingwayÕs Misogynistic View in
"The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"
Word Count: 2 121 words
Throughout his story, "The Short Happy Life of Francis
Macomber," Ernest Hemingway presents the character of
Margaret, Francis MacomberÕs wife, as devious, manipulative
and vengefulÑsomeone who seeks to control men. This can be
seen in the way she relates to her husband throughout the story,
from the time of his first humiliation during the lion hunt to his final
"courageous" stand before the charging buffalo. Furthermore,
her cruel nature, depicted through her relationship with Robert
Wilson, comes across as an act of revenge against her
husbandÕs cowardice. Despite sleeping with Wilson, she has no
emotional bond with him and comes to hate him later on, and,
after she shoots her husband dead, Wilson accuses her of
murder, saying "That was a pretty thing to do, he would have
left you, too" (Hemingway 61). Even if it is not clear from the
story whether Margaret killed her husband intentionally,
Hemingway shows her to be an unsympathetic character
through the narrative voice of Robert Wilson whose view of her
dominates at this point. Considering all this evidence, we can
conclude that the author presents a misogynistic view of women
in this story.
        Hemingway presents Margaret at the beginning of the
story as a vengeful person because Macomber had been
humiliated when he turned to run away during the lion hunt.
Margaret has witnessed this public humiliation of her husband,
and being very disappointed, she later says "I wish it hadnÕt
happened. Oh, I wish it hadnÕt happened" (Hemingway 41),
going off in seeming despair to her tent. Upon her return,
Margaret appears to be composed and Robert Wilson notices
the following about her: "they are 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 and
they have hardened" (Hemingway 43). Wilson, who is from
England, hates Americans, especially American women,
because of their corrupt and promiscuous nature, which is
reaffirmed by his observations of the conflict between the
American couple. He also sees Margaret as a "predator"
(Hemingway 43) because she uses the chance to control her
husband and wield power over him as soon as Francis shows a
weakness. At first, Wilson has ambivalent feelings for Margaret,
thinking she understands and sympathizes with her husband
after he flees from the lion, but after that, Wilson sees her as
"enameled in that American female cruelty" (Hemingway 43)
because he thinks that Margaret is most uncaring and immoral.
        Her immorality is also revealed to Wilson when she
openly flirts with him in front of Macomber. When Macomber
returns to the car after he has fled from the lion, Margaret
refuses to talk to him or hold his hand, and later kisses Wilson
right on the mouth. This culminates in MargaretÕs sleeping with
Wilson, revealing her infidelity to her husband. It is not just
WilsonÕs point of view about MargaretÕs devious nature any
more that is apparent, but it is told to the reader by the third
person narrator who writes about their relationship as follows:
His wife had been through with him before but it never lasted.
He was very wealthy, would be much wealthier, and he knew
she would not leave him ever nowÉHis  wife had been a  great
beauty and she was still a great beauty in Africa, 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. (Hemingway
52)
This shows how they are mutually dependent in a negative way
and do not really love each other. We are told this by the author
directly, which seems to reinforce WilsonÕs view of Margaret.
        MargaretÕs corruption is also obvious in her actions
when she sleeps with Wilson. On the night after the lion hunt,
Margaret spends the night with Wilson, and when she comes
back, Macomber, who has been awake for two hours, criticizes
her:
        "There wasnÕt going to be any of that. You promised
there wouldnÕt be."
        "Well, there is now," she (Margaret) said sweetly.
        "You said if we made this trip that there would be
none of that. You promised."
        "Yes, darling. ThatÕs the way I meant to it to be. But
the trip was spoiled yesterday." (Hemingway 53)
In this conversation, we find that this is not the first time she has
slept with other men. Even though she should be ashamed of
her actions, she counters instead by blaming Francis, and
claiming that he is responsible for this because of his cowardice.
Furthermore, there is no emotional bond between Margaret and
Wilson even though they have slept together. The reader can
deduce that Margaret slept with Wilson out of revenge and
comes to hate him soon after, and Wilson also does not have
any affection for her and later thinks that, "Women are a
nuisance on safari" (Hemingway 54). Hemingway also tells us
that Margaret is not the only one who has slept with him, but is
just one of his many customers:
        He, Robert Wilson, carried a double size cot on safari
to accommodate any windfalls he might receive. He had hunted
for a certain clientele, the international, fast, sporting set, where
the women did not fell they were getting their moneyÕs worth
unless they had shared that cot with the white hunter. He
despised them when he was away from them although he liked
some of them well enough at the time, but he made his living by
them; and their standards were his standards as long as they
were hiring him. (Hemingway 55)
Here, Wilson generalizes all women as being immoral, dishonest
and perverse. Margaret has done one of the worst things to her
husband by cuckolding him but can not get any support from
anyone, not even from Wilson, and is considered as "a bitch"
(Hemingway 52) by her husband.
        MargaretÕs devious nature becomes more apparent as
her husband, Francis regains his courage and starts to act
differently during the buffalo. Next morning, When Wilson and
Francis start to go hunting buffalo and Margaret also follows
them, they try to persuade her not to come, but she replies, "Not
for anything. I wouldnÕt miss something like today for nothing"
(Hemingway 43), showing that she desires MacomberÕs public
humiliation once more. She does not want to miss another act of
cowardice on her husband so that she can gain more control
over him and become be able to lord it over him. When the hunt
begins, unlike the day before, Francis acquits him well, probably
because of his anger at over the cuckoldry of his wife and gains
a lot of confidence: "For the first time in his life he really felt
wholly without fear. Instead of fear he had a feeling of definite
elation" (Hemingway 58). Margaret also sees the change in her
husband and tries to deflate his euphoria:
"Just because youÕve chased some helpless animals in a motor
car you talk like heroes"
"If you donÕt know what weÕre talking about why not keep out
of it?" Macomber asked his wife.
"YouÕve gotten awfully brave, awfully suddenly," his wife said
contemptuously, but her contempt was not secure. She was
very afraid of something.
Macomber laughed, a very natural hearty laugh. "You know I
have," he said. "I really have."
"IsnÕt it sort of late?" Margot said bitterly.
"Not for me," said Macomber.
Margot said nothing but sat back in the corner of the seat.
(Hemingway 59-60)
It is very obvious from this dialogue that she can not win the
argument any more. She is fearful of losing control because it
has enabled her to have the upper hand the previous night, and
now she probably senses that she has already lost the power
she had over Francis. Even though she loved witnessing the
killing of the lion by Wilson and even admired him for it the day
before, Margaret starts to express hatred and fear about killing
the buffaloes because Francis has changed and she is unable
to manipulate either man any more. She even asks if it is allowed
to chase the animals from the car, hoping to humiliate Wilson,
but this fails completely making Macomber laugh at her. She has
lost everything she used to have at this turning point, and is
described as vile and spiteful by the author.
HemingwayÕs misogynistic view is confirmed at the end of the
story when Margaret kills her husband during the buffalo hunt.
After Francis and Wilson have shot three buffaloes, one buffalo
survives and hides in the bushes just as the lion did the day
before. Margaret becomes "full of anticipation" (Hemingway 57)
when she hears this because she hopes to witness another
cowardly act on FrancisÕ part, but Wilson asserts that it would be
very different since he thinks that Francis has become a brave
individual. When they go into the brush after the buffalo, it
seems to be dead at first, but suddenly starts to charge the
gun-bearer and Francis, who does not run away this time but
tries to shoot it unflinchingly. However, he misses it several
times, and when the buffalo is almost on top of him and is about
to gore him, Margaret shoots him in the head, killing him.
Whether Margaret was planning to shoot buffalo to save her
husband is not clear from the story, but Wilson (and Hemingway)
makes the reader, who otherwise might not suspect it, think that
it was a planned murder by saying:
"Of course itÕs an accident," he (Wilson) said. "I know that."
"Stop it," she (Margaret) said.
"ÉWhy didnÕt you poison him? ThatÕs what they do in England."
"Stop it. Stop it. Stop it," the woman cried.
Wilson looked at her with his flat blue eyes.
"IÕm through now," he said. "I was a little angry. IÕd begun to like
your husband."
"Oh, please stop it," she said. "Please, please stop it."
"ThatÕs better," Wilson said. "Please is much better. Now IÕll
stop." (Hemingway 61-62)
Wilson implies that Margaret killed Francis deliberately, making
her appear to be a very repellent character who is out for
revenge. Even if the death was not premeditated, she is still
depicted negatively since killing is the worst thing she could
have done to her husband. Her actions also can be seen from a
misogynistic perspective because, when Margaret tries to help
the men for the first and last time, it turns out to backfire rather
than help, symbolizing that women are helpless or "a nuisance"
(Hemingway 54), according to WilsonÕs view. When Wilson says
that "please is much better" (Hemingway 62), this suggests that
women are inferior to men by saying that women should be polite
and respectful when they talk. Even though Wilson himself does
not believe that Margaret killed her husband  on purpose, he
speaks to her so cynically because he wants to humiliate her,
underscoring the misogynistic point of view.
As details have been shown in this essay, it is hard to deny that
Ernest Hemingway is a misogynist. Misogynism is the main idea
of the story, and there would be no interesting aspects in it if the
author tried to avoid the misogynistic view. By depicting
Margaret as an enemy of men, this story can be one-sided and
distorts how women really are. However, the authorÕs own voice
is never revealed, and instead the objective narration of events
and WilsonÕs view seem to affirm this position. Hemingway gives
the most emphasis to WilsonÕs point of view, who describes
MargaretÕs character through her actions and also through his
commentary on her and women in general. It is also Wilson who
portrays Margaret so negatively she is not seen as ever being
sympathetic even when we could potentially sympathize with her
because there is also FrancisÕ fault. Since Wilson is the last
voice of the story, we can conclude that Hemingway tells a
misogynistic story by endorsing WilsonÕs misogynistic position.
Works Cited
Hemingway, Ernest. "The Short Happy Life of Francis
Macomber," The Norton
                   Introduction to Literature. Shorter Fourth Edition.
Edited by Carl E. Bain,
                    Jerome Beaty, and J. Paul Hunter. New York: W.
W. Norton, 1987 (1973),
                    39-62.
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