Tuesday, August 18, 2009

182. To Have and Have Not – Ernest Hemmingway

History: Written in 1937, The style is distinctly modernistic with the narrative being told from multiple viewpoints at different times by different characters. It begins in first person (Harry's viewpoint), moves to third person omniscient, then back to first person (Al's viewpoint), then back to first person (Harry's again), then back to third person omniscient where it stays for the rest of the novel. As a result, names of characters are frequently written under the chapter headings to indicate who is narrating that section of the novel.
Legend has it that Hemingway wrote the book as part of a contractual obligation and hated it.
Plot: The novel depicts Harry as an essentially good man who is forced into blackmarket activity by economic forces beyond his control. Initially, his fishing charter Johnson tricks Harry by not paying back the money he owes him, and then escapes the country by airplane before Harry can realize what is going on. Harry then takes a critical decision to attempt smuggling Chinese immigrants into Florida in order to feed his family. (He then finds himself forced to kill the person in charge of getting the immigrants to Florida, because the man "Obviously was far to easily persuaded to pay him more for the transport") The Great Depression features prominently in the novel, forcing depravity and starvation on the residents of Key West, referred to as "Conchs."
Harry Morgan is a typical Hemingway hero, first it seems as if he was a cold blooded murderer - but yet he is the mystical role model of the morally kind American father. Harry Morgan only has one arm intact, and how he lost his other arm is revealed in the later parts of the book, it also describes how he manages to fight off three armed Cuban bandits holding him hostage on his own boat while only being able to fight back with one arm. The story ends tragically, with Harry killed, and his wife a widow.
Review: There is more to the overall structure of the book than just three short stories. The first story is told in first person from Harry's point of view; we are right there in his head, seeing the world through his eyes. Later, the narration moves to third person, and we can observe Harry from a distance as he is forced to cope with more and more desperate situations. As our viewp
oint moves away from Harry, Hemingway introduces us to more people inhabiting Harry's world, giving fascinating short descriptions of each. The final paragraph of the book is a descriptive 'pan-out' from the island of Cuba - Harry's story is just one amongst millions. Harry is an incredibly cold person - he describes a murder in much the same tone as he describes fishing. The balance between this aspect of his personality and his love for his wife and children is brilliantly portrayed. Hemingway demonstrates how the apparently contradictory hard-side and soft-side exist in one man - 'To Have And Have Not' is a kind of ethical guidebook for REAL men who kill in cold blood but love their Mum.
This is a very serious book; it's not clear whether Ernest Hemingway had a sense of humour at all. There is clearly no room for laughter in Hemingway's image of the real man, so don't expect any jokes. All the same, I did smile now and then at just how incredibly stoical Harry becomes in the face of his crises.
Opening Line: “You know how it is there early in the morning in Havana with the bums still asleep against the walls of the buildings; before even the ice wagons come by with ice or the bars?”
Closing Line: “A large white yacht was coming in to the harbor and seven miles out on the horizon you could see a tanker, small and neat in profile against the blue sea, hugging the reef as she made to the westward to keep from wasting fuel against the stream.”
Quotes: “He knew there was no tank although he could feel a cold rubber hose that seemed to have entered his mouth and now was coiled, big, cold, and heavy all down through him. Each time he took a breath the hose coiled colder and firmer in his lower abdomen and he could feel it like a big, smooth-moving snake in there, above the sloshing of the lake.”
Rating: Not good.

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