Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although To Have and Have Not aspires to be a proletarian novel, it does not succeed on that level. It has been called one of the earliest examples of the “tough guy” school of fiction, but it does not succeed entirely on that level either. The theme that dominates To Have and Have Not is the moral superiority of existential stoicism. Harry Morgan demonstrates this throughout the book, and his wife, Marie, reveals that she, too, instinctively finds it in herself as she struggles to cope with his death.

The book clearly differentiates between Harry Morgan, who fights and kills to survive, and the others who kill either for profit, politics, or out of blood lust. Yet he has an amazing capacity to withstand physical punishment and pain. Hemingway may have meant for Morgan’s courage, independence, and masculinity to contrast with the decadence of the two segments of the upper class depicted late in the novel: the idle rich and the intellectuals who use social conflict to show how clever they are. In fact, Morgan’s toughness becomes part of the expression of his existential attitude toward life.

Similarly, Morgan—like Hemingway—admires skill for its own sake. This may be fishing skill, the skill of putting bait on well—as Wesley can—or fighting and killing well. The doing is its own reward. This is something that the rich can never understand. They buy and sell, but they do not “do.” Society is so dominated by...

(The entire section is 426 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

For a writer who once said that writing is architecture and not interior decoration, Hemingway's book betrays the haphazard story of its...

(The entire section is 987 words.)