The Murder of Francis Macomber
In the story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” by Ernest Hemingway, one of the most shocking moments occurs when Mrs. Macomber shoots her husband, Francis. Hemingway leaves the reader to answer the crucial question of whether or not it was intentional.
Throughout the story the Macombers have a turbulent relationship. Their relationship seems to be a power struggle, each one has a hold on the other that they believe, or want, to be stronger than the other’s hold. The narrator suggests this on page18 of the story by writing: “Margot was too beautiful for Macomber to leave her and Macomber had too much money for Margot to ever leave him.” This is indicative of their behavior throughout the story. One gets the feeling that Mrs. Macomber wishes her husband to be more brave and powerful. Mr. Wilson possesses these qualities, which is why Margot flirts with him and admires him. Being around Mr. Wilson shows Margot what is lacking in her husband more than she previously realized.
The real problems begin when Macomber, Wilson and Margot go hunting lions. Macomber shoots poorly and flushes the lion into a space where it can not be seen easily, as Wilson says: “Can’t see him until you’re on him.” (Page 14). As the two men go to clear the lion out, he (the lion) charges and Macomber can not kill the lion without Wilson’s help. This is when Mrs. Macomber begins to think of her husband as a coward. In an attempt to gain some of his wife’s lost respect for him, Macomber decides that the next day they will hunt for buffalo. That night, Mrs. Macomber and Mr. Wilson sleep together. Unfortunately for Mrs. Macomber, her husband finds out. They go about the day as planned until they reach some buffalo. Again, Macomber’s poor aim and judgment lead to trouble. One buffalo gets shot and seeks refuge in a small clearing. Macomber and Wilson, thinking he is still alive, reach the clearing and are informed by the gun-bearer that he (the buffalo) is dead. As they congratulate each other, the buffalo suddenly charges from his hiding spot. As the two men try to get a good shot at the buffalo, a shot is fired and Macomber falls dead. Wilson sees Mrs. Macomber sitting in the jeep with the rifle in her hands.
Did Mrs. Macomber shoot her husband on purpose? She knew that he was aware of her infidelity and she also saw a new quality in him. He was becoming brave, as she had always hoped he would. She was fairly certain that she could no longer control the relationship and that frightened her. There was also some fear because she thought he might leave her after her indiscretion with Mr. Wilson. She acted out of fear and not in cold blood. However, it was most certainly not an accident. By shooting him, she ensured that she was the one with the upper hand. Their relationship was a game of sorts and the winner was Margot, she had control and she decided the outcome. It was not premeditated murder, but it was murder all the same.