The renaissance 1485 – 1625 The English Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement

Themes The Honor in Struggle, Defeat & Death

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The Honor in Struggle, Defeat & Death

From the very first paragraph, Santiago is characterized as someone struggling against defeat. He has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish—he will soon pass his own record of eighty-seven days. Almost as a reminder of Santiago’s struggle, the sail of his skiff resembles “the flag of permanent defeat.” But the old man refuses defeat at every turn: he resolves to sail out beyond the other fishermen to where the biggest fish promise to be. He lands the marlin, tying his record of eighty-seven days after a brutal three-day fight, and he continues to ward off sharks from stealing his prey, even though he knows the battle is useless.

Because Santiago is pitted against the creatures of the sea, some readers choose to view the tale as a chronicle of man’s battle against the natural world, but the novella is, more accurately, the story of man’s place within nature. Both Santiago and the marlin display qualities of pride, honor, and bravery, and both are subject to the same eternal law: they must kill or be killed. As Santiago reflects when he watches the weary warbler fly toward shore, where it will inevitably meet the hawk, the world is filled with predators, and no living thing can escape the inevitable struggle that will lead to its death. Santiago lives according to his own observation: “man is not made for defeat . . . [a] man can be destroyed but not defeated.” In Hemingway’s portrait of the world, death is inevitable, but the best men (and animals) will nonetheless refuse to give in to its power. Accordingly, man and fish will struggle to the death, just as hungry sharks will lay waste to an old man’s trophy catch.

The novel suggests that it is possible to transcend this natural law. In fact, the very inevitability of destruction creates the terms that allow a worthy man or beast to transcend it. It is precisely through the effort to battle the inevitable that a man can prove himself. Indeed, a man can prove this determination over and over through the worthiness of the opponents he chooses to face. Santiago finds the marlin worthy of a fight, just as he once found “the great negro of Cienfuegos” worthy. His admiration for these opponents brings love and respect into an equation with death, as their destruction becomes a point of honor and bravery that confirms Santiago’s heroic qualities. One might characterize the equation as the working out of the statement “Because I love you, I have to kill you.” Alternately, one might draw a parallel to the poet John Keats and his insistence that beauty can only be comprehended in the moment before death, as beauty bows to destruction. Santiago, though destroyed at the end of the novella, is never defeated. Instead, he emerges as a hero. Santiago’s struggle does not enable him to change man’s place in the world. Rather, it enables him to meet his most dignified destiny.

Pride as the Source of Greatness & Determination

Many parallels exist between Santiago and the classic heroes of the ancient world. In addition to exhibiting terrific strength, bravery, and moral certainty, those heroes usually possess a tragic flaw—a quality that, though admirable, leads to their eventual downfall. If pride is Santiago’s fatal flaw, he is keenly aware of it. After sharks have destroyed the marlin, the old man apologizes again and again to his worthy opponent. He has ruined them both, he concedes, by sailing beyond the usual boundaries of fishermen. Indeed, his last word on the subject comes when he asks himself the reason for his undoing and decides, “Nothing . . . I went out too far.”

While it is certainly true that Santiago’s eighty-four-day run of bad luck is an affront to his pride as a masterful fisherman, and that his attempt to bear out his skills by sailing far into the gulf waters leads to disaster, Hemingway does not condemn his protagonist for being full of pride. On the contrary, Santiago stands as proof that pride motivates men to greatness. Because the old man acknowledges that he killed the mighty marlin largely out of pride, and because his capture of the marlin leads in turn to his heroic transcendence of defeat, pride becomes the source of Santiago’s greatest strength. Without a ferocious sense of pride, that battle would never have been fought, or more likely, it would have been abandoned before the end.

Santiago’s pride also motivates his desire to transcend the destructive forces of nature. Throughout the novel, no matter how baleful his circumstances become, the old man exhibits an unflagging determination to catch the marlin and bring it to shore. When the first shark arrives, Santiago’s resolve is mentioned twice in the space of just a few paragraphs. First we are told that the old man “was full of resolution but he had little hope.” Then, sentences later, the narrator says, “He hit [the shark] without hope but with resolution.” The old man meets every challenge with the same unwavering determination: he is willing to die in order to bring in the marlin, and he is willing to die in order to battle the feeding sharks. It is this conscious decision to act, to fight, to never give up that enables Santiago to avoid defeat. Although he returns to Havana without the trophy of his long battle, he returns with the knowledge that he has acquitted himself proudly and manfully. Hemingway seems to suggest that victory is not a prerequisite for honor. Instead, glory depends upon one having the pride to see a struggle through to its end, regardless of the outcome. Even if the old man had returned with the marlin intact, his moment of glory, like the marlin’s meat, would have been short-lived. The glory and honor Santiago accrues comes not from his battle itself but from his pride and determination to fight.


Crucifixion Imagery

In order to suggest the profundity of the old man’s sacrifice and the glory that derives from it, Hemingway purposefully likens Santiago to Christ, who, according to Christian theology, gave his life for the greater glory of humankind. Crucifixion imagery is the most noticeable way in which Hemingway creates the symbolic parallel between Santiago and Christ. When Santiago’s palms are first cut by his fishing line, the reader cannot help but think of Christ suffering his stigmata. Later, when the sharks arrive, Hemingway portrays the old man as a crucified martyr, saying that he makes a noise similar to that of a man having nails driven through his hands. Furthermore, the image of the old man struggling up the hill with his mast across his shoulders recalls Christ’s march toward Calvary. Even the position in which Santiago collapses on his bed—face down with his arms out straight and the palms of his hands up—brings to mind the image of Christ suffering on the cross. Hemingway employs these images in the final pages of the novella in order to link Santiago to Christ, who exemplified transcendence by turning loss into gain, defeat into triumph, and even death into renewed life.

Life from Death

Death is the unavoidable force in the novella, the one fact that no living creature can escape. But death, Hemingway suggests, is never an end in itself: in death there is always the possibility of the most vigorous life. The reader notes that as Santiago slays the marlin, not only is the old man reinvigorated by the battle, but the fish also comes alive “with his death in him.” Life, the possibility of renewal, necessarily follows on the heels of death.

Whereas the marlin’s death hints at a type of physical reanimation, death leads to life in less literal ways at other points in the novella. The book’s crucifixion imagery emphasizes the cyclical connection between life and death, as does Santiago’s battle with the marlin. His success at bringing the marlin in earns him the awed respect of the fishermen who once mocked him, and secures him the companionship of Manolin, the apprentice who will carry on Santiago’s teachings long after the old man has died.

The Lions on the Beach

Santiago dreams his pleasant dream of the lions at play on the beaches of Africa three times. The first time is the night before he departs on his three-day fishing expedition, the second occurs when he sleeps on the boat for a few hours in the middle of his struggle with the marlin, and the third takes place at the very end of the book. In fact, the sober promise of the triumph and regeneration with which the novella closes is supported by the final image of the lions. Because Santiago associates the lions with his youth, the dream suggests the circular nature of life. Additionally, because Santiago imagines the lions, fierce predators, playing, his dream suggests a harmony between the opposing forces—life and death, love and hate, destruction and regeneration—of nature.


The Marlin

Magnificent and glorious, the marlin symbolizes the ideal opponent. In a world in which “everything kills everything else in some way,” Santiago feels genuinely lucky to find himself matched against a creature that brings out the best in him: his strength, courage, love, and respect.

The Shovel-Nosed Sharks

The shovel-nosed sharks are little more than moving appetites that thoughtlessly and gracelessly attack the marlin. As opponents of the old man, they stand in bold contrast to the marlin, which is worthy of Santiago’s effort and strength. They symbolize and embody the destructive laws of the universe and attest to the fact that those laws can be transcended only when equals fight to the death. Because they are base predators, Santiago wins no glory from battling them.

It is written on the principle of the iceberg – seven- eighths of it is underwater for every part that shows. Explores the inner consciousness of a single man as he fights against natural forces.

Some of the motifs present in the book are :

  • Human courage

  • The search for dignity amidst the harshness of the world

  • The stoic hero who lives by his own code of values

  • The ability to function with grace under pressure

  • The images of the athlete, animals and Christ

The themes:

  • Nature as symbolized in one form by the fish, is not a malignant force but one that is to be respected for its power

  • Santiago’s noble battle can also be seen as an account of humans’ search for meaning in a harsh world

  • Interconnectedness of all things in nature

  • The many biblical allusions underscore the novella’s themes of suffering, redemption, hope, faith, love and endurance; Santiago is at once a sinner who has ‘gone too far out’ and Christ- like figure who bears the burden of trying to achieve the impossible and is victorious even in defeat. Like Christ he is a fisherman, he lives on charity; he lacerates his hands during his struggle; he carries his mast across his shoulders like a cross and falls down five times; he sleeps in cruciform position at the end of his ordeal. The boy Manolin keeps his faith in the old man, and is an embodiment of uncorrupted youth and hope, the figure to whom the fisherman finally passes the marlin’s spear, a symbol of heroic vitality.


Ernest Hemingway’s “Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is a double statement about manhood. The story’s plot revolves around a rich thirty-five year old American’s sudden transformation from a boy to a man during an African safari. Underneath the surface, however, is a scathing criticism of the American upper class of the 1920’s and 30’s. Hemingway’s distinct style and universal theme make this story a classic.

The narrator of “The Short Happy Life”, Robert Wilson, is a gruff, tough British hunter-turned-tour guide. He is a realistic and static character whose insight, thoughtful nature and neutrality to those around him greatly aid his telling of the story. His current charges are Francis Macomber, the “very tall, very well built” realistic main character and Margot, his “extremely handsome and well-kept”, static, realistic wife (122). The two despise each other but are inseparable; Margot is too old and dependent on Francis’s wealth and Francis lacks the confidence necessary to get another woman.

Francis and Margot’s marriage completely disintegrates after Francis runs away from a lion instead of killing it on the safari; that night, Margot leaves Francis’s side to lie with Robert Wilson. Francis is enraged by Margot’s infidelity and the next day shoots three buffalo, killing one. After the encounter, he is a changed man; “Macomber felt a wild unreasonable happiness that he had never known before” and no longer fears anything (149). Wilson is surprised but pleased by the change; Margot, however, feels sickened and dreaded by her loss of power. When Macomber and Wilson hunt down and try to kill a wounded buffalo, she “accidentally” kills her husband with a pistol while shooting at the buffalo. Francis matured as a person and Margot could not handle it.

According to Hemingway, the problems between Francis and his wife never would have occurred if not for the weakness of American society. Wilson regards Francis as one of the “great American boy-men”, “damned strange people” who look and act like boys well into their fifties (150). He is even more wary about the wife, he considers American women “the hardest, the cruelest, the most predatory and the most attractive and their men have softened or gone to pieces nervously as they have hardened” (126). He finds Francis’s wife and other American women very attractive and has sexual intercourse with them frequently, but has still “seen enough of their damn terrorism” (128). Hemingway, clearly, has had enough with the wealthy of America.

Though the setting of “The Short Happy Life” is essential to the events that take place therein, man’s coming of age is one of the most popular themes of world literature. Hemingway agrees with many thinkers that a man is created through challenge and suffering; his main character’s sudden transformation through the killing of wild beasts is a different interpretation of the nature challenge and suffering. Hemingway is also unique in the different reactions of his supporting characters; Robert Wilson, a man, is pleased and intrigued by Francis’s change while Francis’s wife, Margot, is mortified. Misogyny happens to be another common theme in Hemingway stories.

Hemingway’s style is one of the most distinctive in the English-speaking world. It is brief and heavy on dialogue and descriptions of places. His vocabulary and sentence structure are both very simple. Though its originality can make it somewhat difficult to read, Hemingway’s style is lively and refreshing.

“The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” is hardly inspiring, but it is a very realistic and captivating portrayal of human nature. This is a story for people who want to learn about people; it may shatter some illusions of our greatness. Due to its depressing content, the story is hard to like, but it is definitely worthwhile and a work of art.

“The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber” by Ernest Hemingway is a story about both coming of age and the flaws of the upper class of his society. In this story, the author seems to make a wish for an increased pursuit of manhood in his society and decreased reliance on wealth and power. A man’s power lies within his soul, not his wallet, and Francis Macomber learns these lessons the hard way.

 "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" can be viewed thematically as the last phase of the initiation of the code hero, a phase whose echoes are heard in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and, in one form or another, in For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.  The at-first cowardly Francis Macomber and his symbolically castrating wife are being 

guided on a big-game hunt by a professional hunter and code initiate, Robert Wilson.  Macomber repeatedly shows his cowardice and is verbally chastised by his wife, who sarcastically responds to his assertiveness late in the story with the line, "You've gotten awfully brave, awfully suddenly." Ironically, Macomber has, in fact, become brave, as he demonstrates by standing his ground and firing at a charging buffalo, "shooting a touch high each time and hitting the heavy horns, splintering and chipping them like hitting a slate roof...."   Margot grabs a gun, ostensibly to get the buffalo, and shoots Macomber through the skull. 
    The literal reader will find a number of questions about this story, at the level of plot, nagging.  Why does Macomber, if he is a coward, go on a big-game hunt in the first place?  Why does he, when in the company of Wilson, allow his wife to badger him?  Of what is he actually afraid and how does he overcome his fear?  Finally, does his wife shoot him intentionally?  None of the questions is answered explicitly in the story, and yet the reader familiar with Hemingway's aesthetic theories can make good guesses at the answers.  Moreover, he knows that the unstated answers tell what the story is really about.  Macomber, although a coward, goes on a big-game hunt because of his craving to break free of the oppressive forces, represented by his wife, which bind him.  Perhaps the fear is, on one level, of castration; perhaps on another, it is a fear of being forever bound to woman, a condition which keeps his identity as a male and as an individual in eclipse.  On the deepest level, as the text of the story indicates, it is a fear of death, which because of the heroic Wilson's presence and with his guidance, Macomber overcomes.  the title of the story suggest that every moment Macomber lived in fear was not actually life at all; only in overcoming the fear of death did he escape the suffocating attachment ot Margot and actually have a life, although the life was only of a few seconds' duration.  Whether Margot shot Macomber intentionally or not makes little difference, because when the code hero embraces death, that, for him, is the end of the story. 
    With Francis Macomber the code hero finally reaches the point of full initiation toward which he has been moving since the early Nick Adams stories.  In his first form, as in "Indian Camp," the hero becomes dimly aware of the central dilemma of life:  to face his own mortality.  Once he accepts this call to adventure, he begins his pursuit of experiences which will reveal to him, at least symbolically, the truth that in life, death is always present.  It becomes the hero's task to accept it stoically.  Seeing death, calling it by various names like nada or nothingness, empathizing with those who are close to it like the old man in the cafe--it remains only for the code hero to grasp the thing itself.  When he does, as Francis Macomber does, embrace death without fear, the cycle is complete; the initiation is accomplished. 
    From the beginning, the dominant concern of Hemingway's short stories is with initiation; the mythic pattern of the heroic quest, whose end point is death.  His triumph, however, is the knowledge that it can be faced gracefully and with courage.  That is the boon that the Hemingway hero finally, often through his sacrificial death, gives to those with whom he is associated and to the Hemingway reader.  In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Hemingway concludes with these words:  "A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it."  Through the short story, the genre by which Hemingway learned to practice his craft, he wrote what he had to say--perhaps until he had too few things left on the surface that he did not know about and which did not go without saying.  After that, what remained for him was to embrace the thing itself in his suicide.  "But not before, in William White's words, "he had written a shelf of some of the finest prose by an American in this century."



Nature, in the form of beautiful landscapes and wholesome surroundings, is a constant presence in Hemingway’s short fiction. It is often the only thing in the text, animate or inanimate, that is described in a positive or laudatory fashion. Hemingway was a great believer in the power of nature, both in terms of its beauty and its challenges, to improve one’s quality of life. He was a lifelong outdoorsman, an avid hunter, fisherman, camper and boater, and he believed that overcoming natural obstacles using only one’s intelligence and skills made one a better person. In addition, Hemingway’s characters look to majestic landscapes and other manifestations of natural beauty for hope, inspiration, and even guidance during difficult or challenging times.

In many Hemingway stories, the ability to conquer nature by hunting and killing animals is the test of masculinity. For example, in “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” the title character comes into his own by shooting buffalo. 


Also a near-constant presence in Hemingway’s stories is the theme of death, either in the form of death itself, the knowledge of the inevitability of death, or the futility of fleeing death. Clearly evocative of death are the stories in which Hemingway describes actual deaths: the war experiences of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “In Another Country;” the suicides of “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” and “Fathers and Sons;” and the accidents of “The Capital of the World” and “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

Hand-in-glove with the theme of death is another Hemingway favorite: fatalistic heroism or heroic fatalism. This attitude entails facing one’s certain death with dignity. In addition, Hemingway can be seen to embrace nihilism, the belief that life is meaningless and that resistance to death is futile, in some of his stories. In short, Hemingway, critics have speculated, feared death but was fascinated by it; it crops up in one form or another in nearly every one of his stories.


Hemingway, it is often noted, was enamored of a particular notion of masculinity. Hemingway’s heroes are often outdoorsmen or hunters who are stoic, taciturn, and averse to showing emotion. Real men, according to Hemingway, are physically courageous and confident, and keep doubts and insecurities to themselves. In addition, there is always an emphasis on the necessity of proving one’s manhood rather than taking it for granted. According to the author’s biographers and critics, Hemingway was brought up with this notion of masculinity; it certainly pervades all of his works of short fiction.

In “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” the title character goes from emasculation to full manhood just by shooting buffalo. In “A Day’s Wait,” Schatz proves his masculinity by stoically holding his emotions in check even as he believes he is dying while his father proves his by going shooting in spite of having a sick son at home. In “Up in Michigan” Jim Gilmore displays his masculinity by going on an extended deer hunt with his buddies and in “The Capital of the World,” Paco and Enrique play out a make-believe bullfight in order to prove they are manly enough for the real thing. “In Another Country” describes Nick Adams’s inferiority complex with respect to three Italian soldiers who received medals for bravery; he explains that received his simply for being an American. “The Killers” describes Nick’s heroic physical courage in defying hit men to warn their target, and “Fathers and Sons” describes Nick’s coming of age in terms of hunting and killing black squirrels.

Animals as Symbols

Animals in the Hemingway canon, whether they are game, pets, or wild, sometimes serve as symbols for their human hunters, caretakers or observers. In “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” the frozen leopard on the top of the mountain represents immortality, which is the quality Harry strives for even as he is dying. The hyena in that story, conversely, represents Harry’s impending death. In “Old Man at the Bridge,” Hemingway switches the word “pigeons,” a reference to the old man’s eight pet birds, for the word “doves,” a symbol of peace in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. In “Hills Like White Elephants,” the “white elephant” of the title is Jig’s unborn baby, a cumbersome, largely useless thing that is on the brink of driving the relationship apart. In “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” the wounded lion that Francis shoots and then runs away from represents the obstacle to his proving his masculinity; though not cowardly itself, it represents Macomber’s cowardice.

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