The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Harry Morgan is, in many respects, the most existential of Hemingway’s male protagonists. At forty-two, he is a noble savage, battered but unbowed—at least, in the eyes of Helen Gordon, the novelist’s wife. Actually, there is some truth to this view, but, beyond this superficial picture, he is the tough guy made hero, the survivor who is too much of a loner for his own good. He has a wife and children, he has friends and acquaintances, and he has known many women in the past, yet he is so ingrained with the essential aloneness of the human condition that he achieves his truest moments of being when he is battling alone.

Above all, Harry Morgan is a pragmatist, subordinating everything else to survival. The irony is that, in the end, he does not even survive. Yet he does not feel sorry for himself. It almost does not matter that he dies a brutal and painful death. What else could he expect? He has no illusions about the cards dealt by life. He takes what he gets and does the best he can. His mate, Albert, comments: “Since he was a boy, he never had no pity for nobody. But he never had no pity for himself either.” When Morgan dies, he tries to explain to the Coast Guard men, “A man . . . ain’t got no . . . hasn’t got can’t really . . . isn’t any way out.”

The women in this novel are portrayed as either “whores” or “earth mothers.” Although Marie Morgan has in her past been a prostitute, she is pictured as a...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Harry Morgan

Harry Morgan, the owner of a charter fishing boat based in Key West, Florida. He is a big, powerfully built, athletic man in his early forties, ruggedly handsome and scarred by a life of adventure, which has made him even more attractive to women, an attraction enhanced by his indifference to its effect. He knows and loves the sea but has been forced to work as a guide for rich and ignorant tourists. When times are hard, he runs liquor on the Caribbean. Although he is scrupulously honest in his dealings with people, he is worried about his responsibilities to his wife and children. Under the pressures of corrupt and immoral local officials, he moves beyond the law into a series of dangerous and illegal voyages that eventually lead to his death. He tries to be decent and honorable according to his own set of principles, but he is overmatched by evil men and an inclination toward violence that finally goes beyond his control. Even during scenes in the novel in which he is not actively present, his daunting individuality hovers around the other characters as a measure of their courage, wit, and fundamental decency.

Marie Morgan

Marie Morgan, Harry’s wife and the mother of his three daughters, formerly a call girl. She is a big and handsome woman, with bleached blonde hair, still attractive in her mid-forties in a Rubenesque fashion but on the verge of losing her edge and sliding toward excess. She is deeply in love with her husband, strongly attracted to him physically and very dependent on him. Although she has the strength to survive on her own, she has committed her life completely to him and, to a lesser extent, to their children.

Albert Tracy

Albert Tracy, Morgan’s right-hand man and first mate. Tracy is roughly middle-aged, nondescript in appearance, not particularly intelligent, not especially strong, and not at all imaginative. He lives on welfare much of the time and tries to keep his complaining wife moderately satisfied. Morgan likes and trusts him because he is reliable, faithful, loyal, and competent at his job: “dumb but straight and a good man in a boat,” Morgan says. He tends to be cautious and has no real driving force in his life, but he...

(The entire section is 922 words.)