on October 1, 1999
I've always been a fan of Hemingway's The Sun also Rises and a Farewell to Arms. I wanted to read another of his books, and since I loved the Bogart and Bacall movie I purchased this despite the typical literary review that calls To Have and Have Not his worst novel. This book is great!! It's gritty, realistic, and the characters are consistent in their characterizations and actions throughout. The bar dialogue, Harry's actions as he delves into crime, they're all dead on. The plot-line really comes together with the juxtaposition of the rich and the poor (I dare you to not be disgusted by the "vital" concerns of the wealthy in the last few chapters). Hemingway's depiction of Harry's suffering wife is perhaps the *ONLY* completely believable female representation I have *EVER* read. This book is macho, poignantly sad, exciting, and full of heart wrenching loneliness throughout.
on August 14, 2002
To Have And Have Not is too fragmentary to be Hemingway's best novel. It's divided into three episodes, which I think were written at completely different times, so Hemingway's objectives might have changed halfway through. The first episode was meant to stand on its own merits as a short story, but Hemingway liked it so much he came back to it later and added two more. That said, it's certainly a fine novel - gripping, moving and very well-written at every step of the way. It revolves around Harry Morgan, an honest man turned into a smuggler by necessity. In the context of the whole novel, the first episode serves mainly to establish his person and show what sort of man he is - his reluctance to get into illegal activities, his strength, his survival instinct and the cruelty that it sometimes results in, and his human qualities. This reads like a self-contained short story with no real point other than an action-filled scenario. The second and shortest episode is the weakest part of the novel - it's a cross-section of a day in Morgan's life after he already takes up smuggling. It certainly shows the risks he has to take, but doesn't serve to do much other than explain a certain point in the third episode.
The third episode, where the real meat of the story is, is the best. It shows the further developments and the conclusion of Morgan's criminal career. It is also where the book's title comes in - here we see the contrast between those who have and those who have not. This comparison makes it easier to understand by contrast just how inevitably Morgan was driven to the life he now leads. Though Hemingway could have treated this issue by simply depicting the rich people as bad and Harry as good, he instead develops the story with tremendous emotional complexity - in a chapter dedicated to the former, Hemingway gets inside the heads of many well-off Americans and shows you their thoughts and fears. You might end up sympathizing with them more than with Harry, even though their glaring weaknesses are relentlessly brought to light. They are shown to be just as much victims of circumstances as Harry Morgan - while this does not exonerate them of their foibles, just like it doesn't exonerate him of his crimes, it makes all of them easier to understand. Nor does Hemingway paint the Marxist rebels that Morgan agrees to transport to Cuba in black and white - some are ruthless mercenaries, but some genuinely seek to make the world better, and others are just there by chance. The tragedy of the book is that all these people, who with a few exceptions really weren't bad sorts, were driven by much more powerful forces against one another, and all ended badly. Here we have Harry Morgan, a strong and intelligent man who really didn't want anything other than to have enough to subsist for him and his family, and he ends up hopelessly alone up against both the law and the lawless. His last monologue, where he ruefully summarizes his life, is one of Hemingway's finest moments.
Here I must add, as an afternote, that this book conclusively proves that those people who like to claim that Hemingway's treatment of women is somehow "sexist" or "disrespectful," or that his female characters are "stereotypical" or "weak," have absolutely no idea what they're talking about. Harry Morgan's wife doesn't have a large role in the book, but there is one crucial scene that revolves solely around her. In it, she shows titanical inner strength; she is possibly the strongest character in the novel, stronger than Harry. Yes, her role in life is "stereotypical," but that is due to the _realism_ of the story - in those days, in those parts of the world, that was the way things were, and that's that. It is undeniable that Hemingway treats her with great respect, admiration and fairness. Thank you very much.
Rough. Hard. Dirty. Physical. Tough. And also lyrical, simple, emotional, indelible. All characteristics of Hemingway's writing, all present in this book. A simple story of Harry Morgan, sometime fisherman forced into smuggling and illegal immigration just to feed his family, a man who spirals down the slippery road of 'the end justifying the means' till there is nothing left but survive at any cost.
The story is told as three separate time-segments in Harry's life, which forces a certain disjointedness to the tale. But it also allows Hemingway to illuminate Harry's story with different segments of the Cuban and Key West societies at different times with changing social conditions. There are many character vignettes, people captured sometimes in only a few paragraphs, people who are desperate, silly, egotistical, idealistic, cynical, worn-out, greedy, dissolute, resigned, driven, and just coping. Albert, a man doing relief work for less than subsistence wages, is one of the clearest and most poignant images, hiring on as mate to Henry even though he knows the voyage is supremely dangerous. Within this short portrait of this man, we see not only the extremes that desperation will drive a man to, but also Hemingway's commentary on social/political organizations and economic structures that give rise to such desperation. This was quite typical of Hemingway, as he never beat his reader's over the head with his political philosophy, but showed the underpinnings of his reasoning through the circumstances of his characters.
Throughout this work, there is the sense that there is more here than what the words on the page delineate, a theme of people from all walks of life and all economic circumstances who are caught in the implacability of fate. All of these people have their own dreams, their own methods of dealing with the vagaries of life, and each is limned by the ultimate depression of life limited to only a short span.
Morgan's wife, though relegated to only a small part on these pages, shines through as one of the most engaging and durable people here, supportive of her husband's dreams, willing to forgo anything more than minimal material wealth, able to put aside her husband's foibles, and having the inner strength to continue when all her world collapses around her. The contrast between her and many of the other characters here is striking, a fine illustration of what really comprises the 'haves' and the 'have nots'.
This book is not as powerful as For Whom the Bell Tolls, mainly due to its fragmented story structure and lack of any clear objective for its main characters, but is still a fine book with many nuances hiding within its simple story. This is not a book for those who like happy, uplifting stories, but it does much to illuminate both the best and the worst of humanity's fight with the curse of living and the insurmountable wall of dying.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
on April 7, 2001
Masterworks like For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Sun Also Rises overshadow To Have And Have Not, but you should not overlook it. The novel is mainly about Harry Morgan, a depression-era fishing boat captain who has run out of luck. The book also has several of the trademark Hemingway stories within the story. Rather than a novel, I like to think of this as a bunch of short stories held together by one greater theme. When your reading, you feel as though Hemingway has let you in on a secret, and he is showing you his private world of Key West and Havana in the 1930's. I also believe that this book is the link between his early success from The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell To Arms to his later triumphs of For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Old Man And The Sea. Because of its high action and the constant sense of adventure, I would recommend this quick read to the first time Hemingway reader. This book is the perfect primer for For Whom The Bell Tolls. The only reason I gave this 4 stars is because of Hemingways other great works. Had another author written this, it would be a better known book for sure. Excellant book and a must read!
Hemingway once said "A man can be destroyed, but not defeated... a man can be defeated, but not destroyed"
To Have and Have not is primarily a story about the destruction of a man... one of the 'have nots' (the conchs) of Key West. The central character, Harry Morgan, constantly struggles throughout the book defying the law, even killing those who stand in his way just trying to make a living. Hemingway peels back the skin of this entire society and shows the reader what lies beneath. This is the classic Hemingway tale of the central character encountering malevolent circumstances and fighting them one by one to the bitter end. I love this book! I wish the movie version had actually been about this book, instead of what it turned out to be. A "Howard Hawks" film with an "Ernest Hemingway" title.
Maybe the critics don't consider this to be his finest novel... but I've read most of his work now and I think its the best one in the bunch.
on June 5, 2001
This is an excellent Hemingway! Action packed from the opening, it is a real adventure story, filled with fight, fury and fishing.
Harry Morgan is led into a desperate situation by a customer who doesn't pay up after a long fishing expidition in Harrys boat. This results in Harrys involvement in the smuggling trade between Cuba and the Florida Keys. He transforms into a uncaring, brusque and to-the-point man who only wants to reap the monetary benefits to support his wife and daughters.
As the story unfolds, we witness Harrys involvment in various smuggles that lead to him losing an arm and to his eventual demise. Along the way we are introduced to a series of characters; some involved with Harry and some not, delving briefly into their personal stories, angsts and relashionships.
The way the book was written was reflective of the times, where lower class races were called derogatory names and performed menial, servantry tasks. Hemingways usual use of descriptively simple language paints glorious pictures of the events that transpire. A great chapter is the one involving the vets getting drunk and fighting in the local bar. It depicts a manic scene of uncertainty for any fellow in the bar willing to pick a fight. Hemingways brilliance comes through further as he takes an aside from the main story (the main character returning home) to focus on the lives and situations of the people aboard the fancy yachts moored to the local pier. It shows the great divide between those the story has told about and those unknown floating in their impressive vessels.
"To Have and Have Not" is a story about surviving love and loss; about being a man and about fishing. I thought it was great and had moments of satire and grisly noir to go along with the adventurous plight of Harry Morgan. This book would be excellent for those new to Hemingway and a treat for those more familiar with his style and brilliance. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
I understand this book was written as a contractual necessity, and it feels cobbled together by Hemingway. The first two portions seem straightforward, and qualify as good short stories about Harry Morgan, a down-at-heels boat-owner in the Florida Keys. The third seems destined to follow along a similar path, and then Hemingway throws in everything but the kitchen sink (like the cliche? It belongs in this section of the book) as Harry becomes a minor character in a hackneyed social-realist critique of just about EVERYHTING: communism, capitalism, alcoholism, any ism you can think of. New characters are introduced and forgotten every few pages. Hemingway cleaned out his junk drawer and stuck it here.
So: completists please read. Otherwise, stick with Hemingway's short stories. Or better yet, read some Hammett.
on January 4, 2002
This book belongs up there with Hemingway's better known books, The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Papa unapologetically presents characters who do bad things. Some people have cited the racial slurs and the crimes the characters commit as problematic, but Hemingway displays these things without condoning them. He isn't writing what is good and bad. He is writing what happens. These things happen. People hate. people kill. People become desperate. Hemingway is at heart a reporter and he has crafted a tremendous story and a great book.
After publishing back-to-back two of the most celebrated American novels ever, Ernest Hemingway waited eight years before his next. For that alone, "To Have And Have Not" could not help but be a disappointment, a judgment that lingers today. Is it merited?
Ex-cop turned charter-fishing-boat captain Harry Morgan is having a run of bad luck. Thanks to the ineptitude of his latest customer, Morgan loses his expensive fishing tackle off the coast of Cuba. The customer then skips without paying for his two-week charter. Down to forty cents, Morgan must scramble to provide for his wife and three daughters in Key West, even if it means breaking the law a little. Or a lot. Morgan's bad luck is just beginning.
Published in 1937, "To Have And Have Not" starts out reading like an Elmore Leonard novel before its time, in the conversational voice of the opening narrative and the long sections of crisp dialogue which follow. Other than the narrative's casual racism, there's nothing wrong with the first part of the book. Hemingway gets to a lot of action quickly, including a gun battle four pages in and a couple of savage marlin fights which show off his economical writing style to good effect.
If there's a problem with the first half of the book, actually two Hemingway short stories he stuck together and added a novella to form this novel, it's with the character of Morgan, an unsympathetic guy who carries a lot of issues but no backstory to help us understand him. He's simply dislikable and dangerous, becoming more so as the story progresses.
"You don't care what happens to a man," Morgan is told at one point by a gun-shot companion. "You ain't hardly human."
This might have worked if Hemingway kept the story on its pulp-fiction track. Instead, he goes for creative dissonance, widening the lens of his story to encompass multiple story arcs and contrasting Morgan's tale with unrelated ones featuring other Key West characters, jaded rich folk and poor World War I vets struggling to extract some pleasure and value from their variously blasted lives.
Hemingway seems to be making a contemporary point about the income gap, hence the title, but never ties it into Morgan's individual story beyond that he needs money and is struggling to earn it. Morgan is an offstage non-presence in the novel's two longest chapters, featuring a long parade of here-and-gone characters. Hemingway's lingering descriptions of each, along with some uncharacteristically long run-on sentences, suggest a misguided attempt at channeling William Faulkner rather than working in his own singular style.
Yet there are good things to say about "To Have And Have Not", like Hemingway's finding inspiration from the ocean, describing the smell of sea grape and the sight of passing ships hauling cargo across the horizon: "Brother, don't let anybody tell you there isn't plenty of water between Havana and Key West." It's a locale Hemingway returned to in two later novels, "The Old Man And The Sea" and "Islands In The Stream", and you get a feeling for why he liked it so.
Also good reading is some of the barroom dialogue, though Hemingway like many alcoholics doesn't know when to quit and keeps it coming for too long, until you feel like you are going to have the speaker's hangover the next morning.
Hemingway was too great a writer to write a worthless book. "To Have And Have Not" is not a must-have by any means, but it has its moments.
on October 6, 2010
Harry Morgan is a policeman-turned-fisherman down on his luck like so many others in the Depression-struck Florida Keys. To make ends meet, Harry begins engaging in increasingly dangerous illegal activities in the waters between the Keys and Cuba.
The book opens on Harry and several Cuban revolutionaries who want to pay Harry an exorbitant fee to transport them to the United States. Harry refuses, preferring to use his boat for legal activities, and as the revolutionaries leave, they are gunned down in the street.
However, after being tricked by a customer who charters the boat for three weeks and then vanishes without settling his account, Harry agrees to smuggle Chinese immigrants from Cuba to the mainland. Next, Harry begins running alcohol between the two countries, and a confrontation with Cuban customs lost Harry his arm and his boat. Undeterred, he signs to the next scheme he runs across: stealing a boat and ferrying Cubans involved in a bank robbery back to their homeland.
As he descends ever-deeper into desperation, Harry meets old friends and new faces. He has little patience for those who have not remained as resilient to the times as himself, and he has no patience for outsiders. Tensions mount between this hardscrabble jack-of-all-trades and several tourists who frequent his local bars.
One pair of tourists take special prominence in the book: Arthur, an unexceptional writer, and his beautiful, unhappy wife. When Arthur comes home one day after sleeping with yet another woman, his wife decides to leave him for another man, an alcoholic who has been seen sloshing around the bars as well.
Meanwhile, you are given a peek into the intimate details of Harry's relationship with his wife, Marie. The quiet desperation with which they cling to each other is meant as a justification for Harry's illegal maritime activity. Unfortunately, Harry does not return home after his trip with the Cuban bank-robbers, and Marie becomes yet another Depression-era woman left wringing her apron in desperation and rage.
I'll be the first to admit that I have a bit of a Hemingway obsession. One of my literary goals is to read all of his books, and I'm not too far from the finish line. However, To Have and Have Not is my least favorite Hemingway book so far. Though Hemingway attempts to dissect grand social issues, such as troubled economic times and the relationship that exists between husband and wife, the entangled sub-plots and the erratic activities of the characters serve to distract from whatever statement Hemingway is trying to make.
The unexpected changes in viewpoints are disorienting, and the stories of other characters either stop abruptly or trail off seemingly without resolution. Harry remains the driving force of the novel, if there is one, even when the narrative meanders through the viewpoints of those who interact with him. Though his motivations inspire pity, his actions encourage judgment. Ultimately, I felt indifference toward him.
One aspect of the novel that I did enjoy, however, was the marine setting. I liked the descriptions of Harry's boat and the protective feelings that he felt for her. However, if you want good writing by Hemingway about the nautical life, read The Old Man and the Sea. In fact, skip this book and read Old Man anyway.