“We got out past the reef and I looked back once and saw the beach and the mountains starting to show up; then I put her on her course for Key West”
– To Have and Have Not
[ About the Book ]
Harry Morgan is a tough guy making his living during the Depression from his motor boat in Key West, Florida. Although he normally takes out fishing parties, sometimes his boat can be put to other uses. If the money offered is worth his while, Harry will run guns, rum and men to and from Cuba. But he is playing a dicey game. Hemingway’s hardest hero risks not just his living, but his life.
[ My Review ]
To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway was originally published in 1937. The edition I have is a Vintage Classic (Penguin Random House), published in 2017, and I was intrigued to discover more.
To Have and Have Not is a combination of three stories, all featuring the same character, tough guy Captain Harry Morgan. Hemingway originally published the first story in 1934 in Cosmopolitan and the second in 1936 in Esquire and subsequently decided to write a novella based on Harry Morgan’s activities. Publication was delayed until 1937 due to Hemingway’s involvement with The Spanish Civil War. On release it received much criticism, with The New York Times (October 1937) stating that ‘Mr. Hemingway’s record as a creative writer would be stronger if it had never been published.’
It is said that Hemingway’s writing was influenced by his experiences during The Spanish Civil War, hence why there is a very strong message throughout To Have and Have Not about the imbalance of society. This is reflected in the title of the book where it refers to those who ‘Have’ and those who ‘Have Not’. The main protagonist, Harry Morgan, is cynical about all aspects of life. He is angry all the time, with this disillusionment spilling out into his everyday routine. He charters his boat out for fishing expeditions and, sometimes, the money he earns is sufficient to put food on the table for his wife and kids, but other times luck passes him by and Harry resorts to black market activities to make ends meet. Dealing with an illegal trade carries great risks and, in To Have and Have Not, Harry Morgan gets involved with some very nasty people.
Hemingway depicts the hardship of life for the local residents of Key West and the feeling of emptiness that clings to them as they attempt to make ends meet. Much of the novel is taken up with descriptions of large amounts of alcohol consumption and violence, tying in with the neglect and poverty of the inhabitants. This is, of course, very much in contrast to the tourists, the wealthy blow-ins, who appear to have everything, yet have many troubles of their own.
To Have and Have Not is a very challenging and difficult book to review in many ways. Today, Harry Morgan would be termed racist, misogynistic and a bully. There is plentiful use of certain words, scattered throughout the book, that would be unacceptable in any work of writing today. But one has to look at it through a different lens, that of 1937, when society was a very different place indeed. To Have and Have Not is a bleak read set in the Depression. The dialogue is disjointed, snappy and abrasive. All the characters are troubled. The setting is dark and desolate. Hemingway had a social conscience on returning from Spain and one would have to wonder how this book would have turned out if he had never gone in the first place.
To Have and Have Not is no doubt a polarising book but one I am glad to have read. As ever I found myself down a rabbit-hole reading more about this writer who continues to fascinate. A tragic tale, To Have and Have Not, is a fragmented and uncompromising read that will challenge and intrigue, while also frustrate and confuse many readers.
Have you read Hemingway? Have you read To Have and Have Not? I really would love to hear your thoughts.
[ Bio ]
Ernest Hemingway was born in 1899. His father was a doctor and he was the second of six children. Their home was at Oak Park, a Chicago suburb.
In 1917, Hemingway joined the Kansas City Star as a cub reporter. The following year, he volunteered as an ambulance driver on the Italian front, where he was badly wounded but decorated for his services. He returned to America in 1919, and married in 1921. In 1922, he reported on the Greco-Turkish war before resigning from journalism to devote himself to fiction. He settled in Paris where he renewed his earlier friendships with such fellow-American expatriates as Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. Their encouragement and criticism were to play a valuable part in the formation of his style.
Hemingway’s first two published works were Three Stories and Ten Poems and In Our Time but it was the satirical novel, The Torrents of Spring, that established his name more widely. His international reputation was firmly secured by his next three books; Fiesta, Men Without Women and A Farewell to Arms.
He was passionately involved with bullfighting, big-game hunting and deep-sea fishing and his writing reflected this. He visited Spain during the Civil War and described his experiences in the bestseller, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
His direct and deceptively simple style of writing spawned generations of imitators but no equals. Recognition of his position in contemporary literature came in 1954 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, following the publication of The Old Man and the Sea. He died in 1961.