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The essay is an in depth psychoanalytic criticism of the short story ‘Happy Life of Fransis Macomber’ written by Hemingway Ernest. The story was published in September 1936 in the issue of Cosmopolitan magazine at the same time with ‘The Snows of Kilimajaro’. The short story has Africa setting. It is worth noting that the story was among the collections of stories in the author’s ‘The Fifth Column and First Forty-Nine Stories’
The author is well known to have a wit full technique that always leave his readers with numerous unresolved endings. One of this and a very important incident is the intentional or accidental shooting of Francis by his wife. It is worth noting that going carefully through the story, there are some traces of evidences skillfully dropped by the author that might help readers arrive at some conclusions but at the same time being much vague making certainty unattainable (Lynn 215). The big question that always lingers in the minds of various readers of this story is whether the death of the protagonist Mr. Francis Macomber was intentional or accidental. When a closer analysis is done to the text, one can develop a case with regards to the death of Macomber at the hands of his wife. For discussion herein the death of the protagonist is seen as a crime of opportunity rather than an accidental death. A number of scholars hold the opinion that most of Ernest literary works are in large shaped by what happened in his live for instance when he was a child, adult as well as what he saw happening around him (Abrams 247).
Before going into depth discussion the proposed thesis, it will be rational to bring to readers attention the concept of psychoanalytic criticism. The concept is thought to adopt the manner with which one can read like Freud, a theorist who argued that various kinds of literatures including poems, paintings, plays, short stories, essays and novels to mention a few just like dreams do express some sort of secret unconscious quests as well as anxieties of the person writing the work. Hence the literary works are clear manifestations of authors’ own neuroses. It is always possible for one to psychoanalyze one concept such as a particular character or theme (Abrams 253). It is worth noting that the whole concept is aimed at trying to find some sort of evidences of such issues as psychological conflicts, unresolved emotions, guilt, ambivalences among others.
On the same note, psychoanalysis criticism calls for the analysis’s to incorporate the childhood trauma, sexual conflicts, the manner with which family life, fixation of the author is associated with the characters as well as themes developed in the literary work. It is no doubt that psychological material to be used to support that analysis are usually hidden, encoded or expressed indirectly through the piece of art. The tools used to accomplish this include symbolism, condensation and or displacement (Hemingway 92)
The story takes place probably in Africa. The protagonist, Francis Macomber 35 years old is in a safari with his wife Margot under the guidance of Wilson. Macomber is potrayed as being athletic and fit having records of big-game fishing, but recent events paint him otherwise, a coward. Through flash back, one understands that the couple are from a wealthy American citizen the wife being very beautiful.
While planning to go hunting, the whole story makes Macomber and his wife uncomfortable later the source of their discomfort is exposed: when they were stalking a lion the protagonist panicked and ran way. Before this Macomber sat, "sweating under his arms, his mouth dry, his stomach hollow feeling, wanting to find the courage to tell Wilson to go on and finish off the lion without him."The incident leaves him feeling embarrassed resulting to Wilson reassuring him but trying to hide the fact that he does not respect Macomber. His wife Margot nonetheless makes frequent references to the incident. The incident makes his wife dislike him even more and openly slips off at midnight to Wilson’s tent obviously engaging in sexual contact (Lynn 72).
The next day Macomber and Wilson went to hunt and the former depicted courage and skills in shooting an impala. However, having in mind the incident of the previous day of running from a lion makes him feel sad. The two later engaged in a standoff with a water buffalo that was charging towards them, in which Macomber shot it three times killing it. His wife watched this with amazement and concludes that if his husband continues to gain courage as well as proving his worth and skills, he might leave her forever due to her harsh tongue (Hemingway 477).
When the trio engaged in a standoff with another water buffalo, it was evident that the beast was drawing closer to the two men and most of their shots had gone wide, putting the life of Macomber in danger. His wife then take a rifle and aims at the water buffalo, pulling the trigger, she hit Macomber at the back of his head dying on the spot while at the verge of gaining courage in his life.
Ernest Hemingway (Author)
According to Reynolds 46 Hemingway lived between July 21 1899 and July 2 1961. He was born and brought up in Oak Park, Illinois. After high school he took a job with Kansas City Star as a reporter, he later left to be an ambulance driver in the wake of First World War. The later being the basis of his first novel A Farewell to Arms. At 23 years, he married Richardson Hadley the first of his four wives moving to Paris working as foreign correspondent. He met with various writers who influenced his writing. It was in this period and mid 1950s that he produced most of his work.
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Five years down his marriage life, he divorced Richardson and married Pfeiffer Pauline and later divorced after he came back from Spanish Civil War coverage. In 1940 he married his third wife Gellhorn Martha leaving her and marrying Welsh Hemingway. In 1952, he went for a safari to Africa where he seriously suffered from a plane crash that left him for death. He lived with serious injuries till he committed suicide by blowing his brains. After the doctor reported fifteen minutes later, the report read in the media was that Ernest death was ‘accidental’ despite there being succinct evidence that it was intentional (Reynolds 50).
Death of Macomber in the novel
It can be argued that the death of his main character being portrayed as accidental might have a close association with his own death although depicted in an indirect manner. As depicted, he terminated his own life by blowing his own brains which was later reported to be accidental. This might be an indication through his novel that Macomber may be representing the author’s end of life.
During his early life, readers are made to understand that Ernest disliked his mother and there were in conflict as she insisted that he learns playing cello. Due a rich family background, the family owned a home where they could go to during summer from where young Ernest learned to be a hunter, fisherman as well as camping. It is no doubt that such kid of adventure is depicted in his main actor Macomber. The art of portraying Macomber as a coward might be used to depict his own anxieties initially in the wild before he gained courage and being adventurous.
Additionally, it is important to bear in mind that the marriage of Macomber and Margot is not based on faithfulness and love but full of anxiety and mistrust. Throughout the novel, readers are made to have an understanding that their marriage had no respect especially when in the mid night Margot slipped and went to Wilson’s tent where they engaged in a sexual intercourse despite her husband being around. When she was asked where she was from, she replies that she was out getting a breath, Macomber continues, “You said if we made this trip that there would be none of that. You promised" (Hemingway 529). This implies that her unfaithfulness is something that has been happening.
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Having in mind his own weaknesses especially lack of self confidence and cowardice, he could not manage to look for another woman. Lacking confidence explains why his wife exhibits the power in the relationship. I bet that this notion was shaped by what happened in his marriage life. Readers are made to understand that Ernest did marry four wives and divorcing them for the next. This can be lack of control in his part in trying to control his marriage and the only option was for him to divorce marrying another woman.
The desire of Margot to shoot him can be linked to her fear that Macomber might divorce her hence loose the economic advantage she was enjoying and for that matter she did not what to be like the previous women who lost such advantage.
As previously mentioned, having come from a well of family that could afford a summer home, Ernest gain a lot of experience in gaming, fishing and hunting. It is no doubt that such an experience did immensely contribute to the skillful description in the story. For instance the various incidences that cover the shooting incidences are brought out in a careful and technical manner. In one of the scenes in which a lion was shot and wounded, the description of Macomber bolting like a coward is parallel with another incident in which the protagonist was involved in shooting water buffalo. Such a clearly explanation of events for instance the bolting of Macomber in the first incident and standing his ground and shooting the buffalo after gaining courage can be done by an individual who has wide experience in such a field which I bet the author employs to the later.
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According to Kathleen & Losada 27 having being raised in a wealthy family it might be evident to him that money and other sources of wealth are not the source of happiness in marriages rather a source of evil. The author leaves the reader with an understanding that Macomber is not a handsome man but very wealthy, on the other hand, his wife Margot is extremely beautiful. For these underlying reasons, the wife being beautiful and the husband being wealthy, a divorce seems to be unfavorable to both Macomber and Margot as the former fears loosing such a beautiful woman and the later fears losing the economic stability she is enjoying; “They had a sound basis of union. Margot was too beautiful for Macomber to divorce her and Macomber had too much money for Margot ever to leave him" (Hemingway 451)
Later, it is wealth that is seen coupled with other underlying factors to be the major reasons why the protagonist is shot dead by his own wife while in a safari in Africa. Similarly, it can be argued that while engaging in various activities particularly being an ambulance driver and a reporter during the war time, he might have encountered a number of individuals either solders or otherwise who were cowards. It is understood that in 1947, he was awarded a bronze star for being brave as he brought to light events during the war that left readers with a clear picture of what really happened on the ground. He is said to have been "under fire in combat areas in order to obtain an accurate picture of conditions” (Reynolds 50). For this reason, he took the opportunity to describe how some individuals were initially cowards but later regained courage and fought unfortunately, they lost their lives after being overpowered by their enemies.
Symbolically, the short story might be having a stronger background from the transformation Ernest underwent since his school days, working as a reporter, a foreign corresponded and his visit to African in 1952 as well as his ill health. It is worth noting that the later can be disputed since the book was written in 1936. For instance, when Macomber is painted to be a coward and run away when the lion they were stalking charged towards, him, it may symbolize that Ernest in his early life was naïve although not a coward. Later in the incident of shooting the water buffalo he gained courage and is seen s being a true man. This can be associated with his problems especially after being wounded while he was an ambulance driver (Reynolds 44).
The death of Macomber has been portrayed to have been intentional rather than accidental. There are numerous points or drops of the same left by the author to suggest that Margot had an initial plan of killing her husband so that she could be in possession of all his wealth and at the same time spend life with Wilson. With this kind of picture painted to readers, the author might have been heavily influenced by what happened in his life especially after marrying his first wife Richardson.
From the psychoanalytic criticism of the short story written by Ernest Hemingway, there are instances that show that the author was in part influenced by his life experiences in writing this piece of art. For instance being brought up in a wealthy family that could afford a home where they could go during summer, he learnt how to hunt, fish and all the aspects associated with camping. Through this readers are given succinct explanations of how the shooting scene took place. Additionally, Macomber carried two coats which he used when his wife could be out of the tent. Such incidences can only be explained well by individuals who have personally experienced life in the wilderness.
Another example that depicts the author applying personal experience in the novel is how the protagonist Macomber is killed by his wife. A closer examination of his personal life reveals that he married five different wives. It can be argued that due to his stable financial base, he could have by his side beautiful women who did not love him but his wealth. Later in the story, after gaining courage Macomber is shot by his wife who seems to believe that once he has gotten himself out of cowardice, he might divorce her leaving her with nothing or too little money to support her economically. This thus makes the reader conclude that the author desire to depict the killing of Macomber was intentional and not accidental.