Thoughts: To Have and Have Not

25 Apr

To Have and Have NotTo Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No matter how a man alone ain’t got no bloody fucking chance.

Don’t stare at it too long. Hemingway can write a little better than this crude assembly of improper grammar, this frayed string of incomprehensible nonsense. I know this, despite certain times of doubt while reading his works. But in To Have and Have Not, all the contemptible characteristics of Hemingway’s style work together seamlessly and, more importantly, with profound effect. I nearly glimpsed the genius which the literary world ascribes to Hemingway. But instead I feel like I shook hands with a man, a unique man, who knows something which no one else cares to know, and would rather hold secretly and serenely within his soul than save the world by preaching it. And this shared moment comes during one of the most violent books in his catalog!

Hemingway begins immediately by writing to his audience in the first-person perspective as if we have all grown up between Cuba and the Keys and know the guys who loiter around Freddy’s place. He does not write to us. He speaks to us, as best as Harry Morgan can. Then in the following chapters, he shifts into the third-person, describing Harry’s episodes without any idea that we just listened to Harry himself out in the black waters of the Gulf, bobbing lazily between lighthouses casting lines of yellow light through the shimmering white luminescence of the moon. And we know Harry as Some Harry, just like they do. I admit, towards the end, it seems as though Hemingway lost control a bit and fell back into his stream of redundancy and run-on sentences. But I have to believe that he intentionally drops the chains which had kept his pen proper. We read to know people, and the experiences of these characters, expressed often by these characters, cannot hide behind the rules of the craft. Hemingway, as the writer, becomes an absent tour guide but still guides the tour somehow.

As the title would suggest, Hemingway portrays images of those who have and those who have not. Near the end, those who have not might realize the riches they possess in family and friends while the trust-fund junky blows a hole in his head because he might have to live on just over $200 a month. Those who have might realize the joys of family time on a luxurious yacht drifting in the moonlit heat while those who have not face off at gun point for a bag of money stowed away below deck. All in all, the pursuit of wealth pits one caged animal against another, clawing at the cash green bars while their fellow man does the same in his cage, warning the other to stay away.

Honest work drives honest men to make dangerous deals because it cannot support a family. Revolutionaries compromise their decency in order to collapse the cage which imprisons the common class. Soldiers wail on each other because they have no place else to go. All these animals rage against their cages and only serve to hurt themselves. Those who have not must either decompose within their cage or rage with the full might of the human spirit. And yet the more they rage the more their spirit seeps from their hearts and minds. They relent to immoral demands and sacrifice their integrity in order to support their families or free a land they love. And as their spirit dwindles, they find no solace in each other, no rekindling of their humanity in another’s embrace. These cages isolate people. The bars bring focus to their own plight and implant an alarming apathy for the lives of other animals. Alone in these cages, they degenerate and cannot survive because of the harm they inflict on themselves through weaponized relations. They rage uncontrollably, yearning for a life outside of the cage only to realize that they can never escape. And if they could, they would only bleed to death in freedom. When each person views the world as their opponent, they set out alone and meet a worthy adversary equally intent on a fight.

And now, Oh Marie…what now? Does the cycle of collapse begin again in you? Do you resign yourself to the cage, dumbstruck by the clicking lock, waiting for the flames in your eyes to char your skin and singe your hair? Though the world vacuums the life from your soul, the charm from your smile and the bounce from your body, you will go on. You have truly lost your riches but you will go on…somehow.

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Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Ernest Hemingway


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