“The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber”, “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died”, “Success is counted sweetest”, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant”, and “Because I could not stop for Death” share a common theme in that the expected or accepted is often at odds with reality. By making this difference apparent the authors are able to place a stronger emphasis on their work’s meaning as well as demonstrate that two contrary ideas can work together. By painting a brave man as a coward, a respectable death as dirty, a hard fought win as meaningless, a truth as a lie, and death as a new beginning the authors were able to emphasize the importance of their work in the context of its opposite. The short story and poems share the theme of the expected being different from the truth and all use this concept to further their meanings.
In Hemingway’s short story “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber”, the belief that Francis is a coward runs contrary to the truth about his real disposition and reveals something about bravery itself. When faced with an intense and frightening situation, Macomber fled from danger. By running from the lion Francis painted a picture of himself as a coward. However, Macomber’s later stance in front of the charging bull and his refusal to sway demonstrates his real courage. As the Somali proverb states, “a brave man is always frightened three times by a lion” (490). Just because Francis appeared to be a coward once does not mean that he is forever doomed to that name. His later bravery proves that his accepted disposition is completely different from his actual identity. By using this device Hemingway was able to point out that bravery is not something always present but rather something that develops over time. While some grow into maturity early, others come of age later in life and only through hard trials. The common theme of accepted ideas being contrary to reality is present in “The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and leads to the belief that bravery is something that develops rather than being issued at birth.
Emily Dickinson’s “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died” uses the concept of expected versus reality to discuss the afterlife. Dickinson’s poem is set on the speaker’s deathbed and has her surrounded by loved ones waiting for her final breath. While all present expect “the King” (line 7) to soon arrive to take her soul to heaven, the only extra presence in the room is a buzzing fly. The expected arrival of God to take the speaker’s soul away clashes with the reality of a mere fly buzzing through the air. By using the concept of the expected versus reality Dickinson is able to question whether an afterlife exists. While those present believe that something will come after, the speaker only sees a fly before her “Windows failed” (line 15). By choosing to describe a buzzing insect in her final seconds rather than the coming of the Kingdom the speaker is questioning the existence of an afterlife as it seems like nothing is happening. By not using traditional death and afterlife imagery despite the peaceful demise, Dickinson is alluding to the thought that we may be just as insignificant as a fly. The concept that the expected outcome is different from reality strengthens the idea that our earthly life is not followed by an afterlife.
Dickinson’s poem “Success is counted sweetest” uses the idea of accepted versus reality to comment on what success means. In the poem the people celebrating a hard-fought win are those who had contributed no effort in the scheme of things. However, the soldier dying on the field is the one who is capable of comprehending the effort and price of that victory, his own life. Despite his sacrifice he is removed from the festivities of victory and is left to die within earshot of those celebrating. By showing those celebrating the win as those who actually had no part in it Dickinson is able to comment on the meaning of victory. While some gave all they had, others gave nothing and still claimed success. By juxtaposing the two groups Dickinson is able to ask what success means, whether it is meant to be acquired through the work of others or if it is supposed to be sought after but never found. By contrasting the two groups Dickinson is able to consider the meaning of success and how it relates to different people.
In “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant”, Dickinson questions the value of strong truths through contrasting the accepted value of truth over all with the reality that sometimes the facts are too strong. While the full truth is the traditionally accepted best answer, Dickinson suggests telling the truth in a gradual buildup rather than all at once. However, if this policy of building up to the truth were to be followed that would mean the truth is not said explicitly. By using the implicit truth the door to false words is opened. This concept questions the value of white lies and whether they may be counted as the truth. By stating that one should tell the truth but tell it on a slant Dickinson is advocating the idea of finding the truth through an indirect process. While this process may not be the accepted belief, it may be the best in particular situations. By contrasting the accepted idea of truth over all with the reality that the truth is best served on a slant Dickinson is able to reconsider the value of truth.
Dickinson’s poem “Because I could not stop for Death” challenges the traditional view of death in a process that results in a new look on the end of life. While the accepted view of death is one of a cold, hooded figure in black carrying a scythe, Dickinson’s version is polite, kind, and patient. In addition to the new likeness of Death, marriage imagery is also introduced. The idea of death courting the speaker as she wears a wedding gown leads to a different perspective on the process of dying. Rather than death signifying the elimination of a person, Dickinson compares death to a new beginning. The use of this imagery alludes to the idea that death is not necessarily something to fear but may actually be something both welcoming and kind. The device of using expected versus reality is able to focus on the misunderstanding surrounding death and question its intention. By juxtaposing the expected with reality Dickinson is able to question what death is like and arrives at her own, favorable interpretation.
The works by Hemingway and Dickinson used the idea of contrasting the accepted with reality in order to bring out a deeper meaning within the short story and poems. Whether defining the meaning of bravery, challenging the idea of an afterlife, questioning the reality of success, redefining the truth, or examining death the authors were able to find greater meaning through the use of contrasting ideas. The device of comparing the accepted or expected with reality was able to add meaning to the focus of the works for both Hemingway and Dickinson.