Throughout Western literature and cinema, it is true that the proverbial “African” has been made a stereotype—in some ways romanticized, and in others almost as bystanders to their own destiny. In addition to this idea, and going along with it as well, is the use of Africa, and even “Africans” as a people, as nothing more than background, props for the manipulation of Western journalism and media. As an almost universal rule, Western views and policy with regards to imperialism and colonialism are exactly on point with the way Africa is portrayed as in the media—mainly as an “exotic” and fitting background for a story as in The Snows of Kilimanjaro as well as The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, though the latter proves an excellent, though somewhat indirect, example of Western colonialism during the time period.
Africa, for hundreds of years, had been looked upon as a land of undeveloped heathens—when Western Europeans first landed there, they exhibited the same behavior as they did toward the Native Americans when they crossed the Atlantic. The native people, because of their perceived status as unintelligent (due partly to the language barrier, partly to the lack of technological advancements, and mostly to racism), as well as submissive when bullets became involved, the continent has always been looked at, and used, for its resources.
The explosion of the exploitation of the resources of the African continent in the early to mid 20th century was not a new idea—the slave trade between Western nations, where Africans were moved like cattle onto over-crowed ships, where they could look forward to being either sold or auctioned, followed by unquestioned servitude for the rest of his or her days. The West had already seen that it took minimal effort to exploit the continent as a whole, which truly fueled the train of thought Hemingway showed in both of his short stories.
Even after slavery was outlawed in the Western world, the exploitation of the continent far from ceased. Whether the the product in demand was first slaves, then gold, and ivory, and oil, and now diamonds, the African continent had an abundance, without any military might to prevent the exploitation. Naturally, as it had been for ages, the West, and really namely England, France, and the United States (followed by Russia a little later) colonized places such as Sierra Leone, Somalia, and South Africa.
The social stratification in British-owned South Africa made the continent a popular place for explorers, hunters, as well as anyone trying to make fast money in the early 20th century. British claims to the region made it more popular amongst white people looking for a safari or a hunt, without the perceived danger that goes along with it. Nowhere better is this idea illustrated than in Hemingway’s The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber.
In this story, the main characters of Francis and Margaret Macomber are on a big-game hunting safari in Africa. They are led by their guide, Robert Wilson; keeping in mind that all three of them are white people. After Francis is scared by a wounded, charging lion and freezes up, his wife calls him a “coward”, and promptly has an overt affair with their guide. Even looking at the story this far in illustrates many main points.
The first point is naturally Africa as a backdrop. As was consistent with colonialism, many Westerners took advantage of the imperialism for purposes of safari or hunt. The largest issue with regards to this, is the virtual playground the West used Africa as. These “exotic” excursions to Africa, which still continue to this day, turns third-world countries, and the people that inhabit them, into museum exhibits—the proverbial rich Westerners sit safely in their car, while they are not as much in an exotic place, as they are in someone else’s land and property. Most Americans would not appreciate an African in a Range Rover pulling up on their front lawn, taking pictures of them through their windows.
Moving forward in the story, specifically the events leading up to the death of Francis, Hemingway illustrates and highlights social injustices, perhaps without meaning to at all. The internal conflict between the three—Francis, his wife, and the guide—becomes a central theme of the story. Keeping in mind they are on safari in perhaps one of the most impoverished places in the world, their internal conflict can also be seen, and adequately judged as a juxtaposition for the broader picture.
Of course it is disheartening to see a man called out as a coward in by his wife, and then even more sad to see his own wife cheat so obviously and up front with another man. This is another horrible age-old story, that whether it be through movies, witness, or personal experience that people of all ages would have no problem relating to. Again, looking at the broader picture of the state of the African continent at the time—the social, economic, and political injustices that existed, and still exist, quite heavily in the African continent, this internal conflict is very small. It is possible that Hemingway used this juxtaposition for dramatic effect, to otherwise highlight these injustices. Either way, it is applicable.
There is another idea that somewhat parallels the former paragraph, and in fact that they are the direct details surrounding the death of Francis. While standing his ground, and firing at the buffalo charging him, he misses. His wife, watching the situation from the car, takes aim, and fires a shot in a last ditch attempt to save her husband. Instead of hitting the charging animal, she strikes her husband in the head and kills him. This is another idea that calls out Western colonialism—the irony surrounding the death of Francis. There with his wife to hunt big game with guns, reflective of how the African continent was taken over by the West as a whole, it is a gun that ironically leads to Francis’s death. In essence, instead of being a less than adequate hunter, Francis very quickly became the hunted. This irony works much the same way as the juxtaposition did—it forced the readers attention to a counter-argument, and thus highlighting true Western feelings toward African and Africans; probably not something Hemingway intended.
With regards to the story The Snows of Kilimanjaro, also written by Ernest Hemingway and set in the African continent, further provides examples that the African people have been largely ignored, but instead used as props, with the continent itself as a living set. Harry was a writer in the middle of his memoirs, also on exotic safari in Africa. It is clear that his wife, whom he grows to resent over the course of the story, is a materialistic person, obsessed with high society, and seemingly wealthy. In this story, the internal conflict Harry faces is actually an extension of the broader issue as a whole—a genius concept Hemingway uses to truly hammer home his point.
Instead of a lion or buffalo being the attacker, so to speak, but actually a would he had sustained from a thorn that had since become infected. The reader is taken through the mind of Harry, and his movement to the realization that although he had experienced a great many things, as a writer, he documented very few. He also began to resent his wife and the high society socialite crowd that he claimed had distracted him from the regular person, with whom he seems to better relate to.
Keeping in mind Harry is in Africa, it is likely he went on the safari as so many wealthy Westerners did. By illustrating this idea, Hemingway conceptualizes that the materialistic society Harry allowed himself to be sucked into, eventually led to his death. The idea of treating Africans, both on and off the continent itself, as equals has been a hard idea to swallow for many Western nations. This idea is actually shown very clearly in the film “The Ghost and the Darkness”–the theme of white man’s burden, or saving Africa “from Africans” shows the embedded racist thoughts that have prevailed for so long.
The current civil wars that rage throughout the continent now is an exact indication that Western colonialism directly parallels the train of thought exemplified in Hemingway’s two stories—the idea of exploitation of the African continent by the wealthy of Western nations.