Observations on Three Hemingway Stories
By Elexis Coleman
As a first time reader of Hemingway (hey, cut me some slack—I am going to business school), I had no idea what to expect. Usually with brevity comes a loss of information and a sense of completeness. However, Hemingway’s mastery of the short story is amazing. The characters in the three short stories “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber”, “Ten Indians”, and “The Battler” all struggle as they deal with loss, the major focus of each story.
In the hunting
misadventure “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber”,
Francis Macomber finally finds his moxie, and then
also finds half his brain missing not even a full day later, courtesy of a
bullet. What was supposed to be an
adventurous hunting trip turns sour when the main character disgraces himself
and his wife by running away from a wounded lion during a hunt. Francis, his
wife Margot, and their robust hunting guide Wilson all battle it out on the
Francis and Margot are
what one could imagine “rich” couples to be like; the husband
is awkward but bursting with money, and the wife is hot, not stupid, but not
very functional either. Margot could be considered a trophy wife, but unlike
trophies, she did move—right underneath
As the couple bickers,
After Francis killed the
buffalo during his redemption hunt (and his wife brings up a possible scandal
After reading and
rereading the ending and the passage about when Macomber’s
wife blew half his head off, JFK style, the conclusion has been reached that
she did not kill him on purpose. His newfound moxie perhaps impressed her and
she probably did love him, so she protected him. After all, even the narrator
noted that it looked like the buffalo was about to gore the guy.
Francis likely started out trying to prove something to his weary wife, but in the end, he was just trying to prove his bravery to himself and wound up with a hole in his head. The one time he really should have run, he did not. Was that him exhibiting courage or stupidity? It is hard to say since both terms can often be used interchangeably.
In “Ten Indians”, a story about the loss of a first love, Nick finds out that his Indian crush named Prudence is anything but a prude when his dad catches her in the woods with another guy. Was Nick’s dad just trying to give his son the 411 on a “cheating” crush, or was he lying to Nick because he did not approve of the relationship?
In the beginning of the story, as Nick heads home with a neighboring family after a July 4th ball game and celebration, the Garner’s go on and on about “them Indians” and mock Nick for liking Prudence, an Indian that lives in his town. Later on in the evening, Nick returns home only to have his dad tell him a disturbing story about seeing Prudie “threshing” around in the woods with a certain Frank Washburn. It is hard to say if Nick’s dad was really lying to him. He does not look at Nick when he tells him the bad news, and even changes his story when Nick further questions him. Instead of consoling his son and further talking about the matter, Nick’s dad offers him a piece of pie. Ha! If a large slice of hush-up pie and a good night’s rest really could cure a broken heart, all armchair psychologists (think Dr. Phil) would be put out of business.
In “The Battler” what is presented is the loss of mental capacity and a grip on reality. As a big fan of violence in literature, “The Battler” starting off with a literal bang (in the italicized “prologue”) was exciting and a story about a bloody gunfight rapidly unfolded in my diabolic mind. Needless to say, when the page was turned and the story continued with the main character being tossed out of a train by a brakeman, I was really confused. What happened with the brutal executions at the beginning of the story? Does the italicized portion have anything to do with “The Battler”? [Editor's reply: No, it doesn't really but who knows, it might.] It was only the first page, and I was already lost. Great, I thought.
After getting tossed out of the train and hit in the face, Nick appeared to be proud of his black eye as he notes how he wishes that he could check his busted reflection out. He wanders around a bit, and comes upon Ad, a former and boxing champion and resident of reality. Ad seems to quickly take to Nick, perhaps because both are apparent fighters. Nick’s quick affirmation to Ad in regards to being tough dissolved once he checks Ad’s mangled face out. It was interesting how Bugs, Ad’s companion and apparent “servant”, pointed out that Nick, like Ad, would eventually become crazy (“He’s got a lot coming to him.”) Free meal or not, why Nick did not simply move on when it became apparent that Ad was a bit crazed is beyond me. Ad likely is some future, whacked out, rejected, and mutilated version of wayward Nick in the distant future. Both meander and both seem a tad on the aggressive side, with a penchant for getting whopped in the face/head/that general area.
Bugs came across as the docile and servile Negro perfected by Melville’s character Babo in Benito Cereno. Bugs even bops Ad over the head with a blunt object, clearly showing who is running the show, albeit behind the scene. Was Bugs just a gentle giant helping his friend out, or was he someone getting a free ride on an insane man’s carpet? Like with most of Hemingway’s characters, it is hard to know of any true intentions.
My only regret with these three stories is that they were not longer. Instead, we as readers are left to toil with what excellent text we are provided with. I, like most others, am thoroughly impressed by Hemingway’s impeccable ability to relay the physical and emotional implications of loss into such few pages of text.