LITERARY TREND AND AUTHOR CANON
Modernist fiction characterised by:
- Minimalist style (as opposed to complex, ornate sentences);
- Emotionally detached point of view;
- Understated irony;
- Omission of key information from the story’s telling;
- Psychological states are conveyed through exterior details;
- Experiments with style and narrative form (in his later work, he uses more complex sentence structures and forms).
THE SHORT HAPPY LIFE OF FRANCIS MACOMBER (1936)
The short story follows the narrative of a hunt in Africa. In a twist, the protagonist ends up dead after killing the buffalo.
- Kenya’s wilderness, the 1930s, during a safari.
Main theme: Men and masculinity.
The protagonist becomes a man throughout the short story, following Wilson’s model, as he is weathered, experienced, and tough. In the beginning, Macomber is portrayed as a boy, but the hunt and killing of a ferocious animal turn him into a man. He wants to prove his masculinity at all costs and is even willing to risk his life for this. Wilson’s sense of masculinity is defined by his skewed ethics.
- Women and femininity
Francis Macomber, a rich American adventurer is on a safari in Kenya, accompanied by his wife, Margot, and their guide, Robert Wilson. He fails to kill a lion and is humiliated by the experience. Margot only adds to his humiliation and cheats on him with Wilson. The next day, Macomber tries hunting buffalo. The hunt goes well, he manages to shoot an animal but does not kill it. He leaves in pursuit of his prey, together with Wilson. When he finally manages to shoot the buffalo (the animal attacks them) Margot fires from the car and shoots Macomber, killing him. Wilson accuses her of killing her husband on purpose but offers to conceal Francis’ death.
Characters presented in the analysis of the literary fragment should be adapted to the fragment itself.
- Francis Macomber – a wealthy, 35-year-old American man. At the beginning of the story, he is presented as terrified and humiliated by his failure to hunt down the lion. He is fit and handsome and seems to be at the prime of his life, but he lacks conviction and power. His wife cheats on him and only remains in the marriage because he is wealthy. Over the story, he transforms into a fierce hunter and man, resisting Margot’s dominance.
- Margot Macomber – the beautiful wife of Francis Macomber, a socialite, and a former model. She understands her power over men and constantly flirts with others, cheating on her husband. She grows increasingly nervous throughout the story, as her husband gains more confidence in himself and treats her coldly. She is the archetypal female predator, a woman who defies standards of passive femininity by asserting her own sexuality and pursuing wealth. In the end, it is unclear if she intended to shoot Francis or she was trying to protect him from the charging buffalo.
- Robert Wilson – a hunter hired by Francis to facilitate the safari. He represents standards of virile masculinity and appears stoic and emotionless in the face of danger and violence. He has no moral issues about sleeping with a married woman and remains detached. He has an imperfect, flawed understanding of the world, which conflicts with his apparent masculine heroism.
POINT OF VIEW
- 3rd person, limited omniscient; the reader has some access to the characters’ thoughts.
- Ironic: the title is ironic when compared to the content (the protagonist’s life is far from “happy”).
- A minimalistic style which is based on the author’s belief that the core meaning of a literary piece should be hidden beneath;
- Sentences are simple, but they reveal a lot about the characters;
- The dialogue is apparently simple but hides a lot of hints about the characters in the way they speak
“I’ll have a gimlet too. I need something,” Macomber’s wife said.”
*“I need something,” – imprecise, evasive, points top a lack of fulfilment in her life.
* “Macomber’s wife said.” – by not using Margot’s name when the character first appears, she is shown to be dissatisfied with her husband and with her status as his wife.
- Focus on the details at the surface of the text;
- Declarative nature of words;
- Iceberg principle: the character presented on the page represents 10% of who he actually is. The other 90% is implied in the mind of the reader.