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What's Love Got to Do with It? an Evolutionary Analysis of "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber."

By Sugiyama, Michelle Scalise | The Hemingway Review, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview

What's Love Got to Do with It? an Evolutionary Analysis of "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber."


Sugiyama, Michelle Scalise, The Hemingway Review


JAMES WATSON writes about Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" that the assessment of Margot and Francis's relationship occurring in the middle of the story is "the thematic center upon which the two days of the hunt are carefully balanced" (217). This passage, he observes, is bracketed by "recurrent violations of the unique terms of the Macombers' marriage agreement" (217). Both Watson and Young characterize the Macombers' relationship as a struggle, the latter writing frankly that "The story is ... an analysis of the relationship between the sexes in America, and the relationship is in the nature of declared warfare" (42). Clearly, sexual conflict is central to the story; however, past explanations of the root of this conflict are problematic. A representative example is Watson's claim that Margot and Francis have found in each other "that physical quality by which they maintain their own self-images" and that, "Both Francis, by his cowardice, and Margot, by her infidelity, break the marriage agreement and thereby threaten the identity of the other" (217).

It is possible that identity is at stake here, but this is only a proximate answer to the question of what the Macombers are fighting about. Indeed, this answer begs the question of "why the human psyche should be such as to value intangible social resources [e.g., identity] enough to risk death over them" (Daly and Wilson 7). Before we can make accurate pronouncements about psychological motivations and functions, we must first understand the process and constraints that have shaped the human mind.

Over the last three decades, a branch of psychology has emerged which undertakes this task. Drawing upon research from anthropology, cognitive science, ethology, and evolutionary biology, the field of evolutionary psychology approaches the mind as a set of mechanisms (i.e., cognitive adaptatiorls) designed by natural selection to address constraints that have directly or indirectly impacted upon reproduction throughout human evolutionary history (i.e., adaptive problems). Daly and Wilson define evolutionary psychology as "the attempt to understand normal social motives as products of the process of evolution by natural selection" (ix). Thus, they explain, "The ultimate objective of our conspicuously purposive physiology and psychology is not longevity or pleasure or self-actualization or health or wealth or peace of mind. It is fitness. Our appetites and ambitions and intellects and revulsions exist because of their historical contributions to this end" (10).(1) A proper analysis of Margot and Francis's struggle, then, begins with an understanding of the cognitive adaptations called into play by the couples' particular circumstances and actions.

An integral part of the study of cognitive adaptations is the delineation of the environmental conditions (and their associated 4daptive problems) under which the mind evolved. Although the majority of humans now live a settled existence in densely populated urban-industrial areas, human psychological processes are solutions to the problems of day-to-day Pleistocene life.(2) As Lee and DeVore explain, "[m]an has been on earth for some 2,000,000 years; for over 99 percent of this period he has lived as a hunter-gatherer. Only in the last 10,000 years has man begun to domesticate plants and animals, to use metals, and to harness energy sources other than the human body" (3). Evolutionary psychologists thus use studies of contemporary tribal peoples, as well as paleoarchaeological data, as models suggestive of the conditions under which most of human evolution took place.

Like hunting and gathering, mating and reproduction were recurrent features of the environment of evolutionary adaptiveness (EEA). Accordingly, the mind contains adaptations to address the physiological and social constraints that accompany the mating enterprise.(3) Like the body, the mind is sexually dimorphic: because men and women have faced different reproductive constraints, their psyches differ in certain important respects.

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