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...
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