(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Hemingway’s most episodic novel, To Have and Have Not is arguably his one book in which the sum of the parts does not equal the individual fragments. It certainly is his one novel that does not maintain artistic unity. Although filled with vivid writing and peopled with memorable characters, the book is weak as a novel. In fact, Hemingway was on record as saying that it was conceived as separate short stories although eventually published as a novel.

The first chapters of the novel focus on Harry Morgan’s efforts to support himself and his family. His tools for accomplishing this are his fishing boat, his wits, and his strength. He must depend on the rich, whom he often despises, to charter his boat, and then he must deal with their erratic, often destructive natures. He is not an immoral man, but he is willing to make compromises to achieve his principal goal: clothing and feeding his wife and three daughters. This leads him to progress from fishing trips for rich “sportsmen” to smuggling liquor, ferrying illegal immigrants, and, finally, providing a getaway for gangsters. He is one of the “have nots” and sympathizes with the other “have nots,” but he lives off the “haves.” This means that he must be willing, when necessary, to sacrifice other “have nots” such as the Chinese immigrants, whom he is paid to double-cross.

The episodic chapters reveal Harry Morgan driven closer and closer to the edge, forced to rely more and more on animal cunning and strength. Increasingly, the distance between himself and the “haves” is made clear. In fact, it is the rich who destroy Morgan’s options, so that he must go outside the...

(The entire section is 686 words.)