Ernest Hemingways 1937 novel To Have and Have Not is considered by most critics
among the least of his novels. Carlos Baker notes that though To Have and Have Not
contains some of Hemingways best writing, the novel has . . . marked deficiencies as a
work of art.1 However, despite structural flaws and other deficiencies, the novel, as
Baker concludes, stands as a . . . persuasive social documentary. . . .2 Presenting the
Haves and Have Nots, Hemingway documents the reality of Depression-era America.
John K. M. McCaffery asserts . . . in form, content and attitude, this novel is an
extraordinary recreation of the chaos, brutality and fear of a society on the edge of an
abyss.3 Moreover, going beyond mere documentation of social ills, To Have and Have Not
expresses Hemingways view of Americas foundational narrative, the American Dream. In
his evocation of the Dream, no party is held harmless, and the reader must sympathize with
the most unlikely of characters while lamenting that, on the whole, the American Dream
collapses upon itself.
Set in 1930s Key West and Havana, the novel partially responds to the criticism that
Hemingway was unconcerned with the social conditions and politics following the
economic collapse of 1929. Critics such as Wyndham Lewis accused him of being more
interested in the sports of death, in the sad things that happened to those in the sports of
love . . . in war . . . , rather than those things that cause wars or involve people in them.
Tying literature to politics in the 1930s caused writers to be judged on their social
awareness. Hemingways publication of Death of the Afternoon (1932), viewed by many as
a manual of bull fighting, seemed meaningless to criticsor the boys as Hemingway
refers to themwhen Americans were selling apples on street-corners, fighting over
restaurant garbage cans for food, or being laid off in wholesale lots . . . .5 Largely
misunderstanding Hemingways work, these critics busily championed writing expressing
ideology (social realism) elevating the common manthe workingmanto the status of
the hero. To Have and Have Not is Hemingways counter-proposal to such works.
Though seemingly a work of social realism, To Have and Have Not is far from the . . .
soap-bubble proletarian literature which appeared, shone brightly, and vanished downwind . . . .6 Absent are long speeches highlighting class disparity directly advocating
capitalist republicanism, socialism, communism, and/or fascism. To Have and Have Not
contains Hemingways . . . notes towards the definition of a decaying culture, and his
disgust with the smell of death to come.7 It recreates the conditions of social illness
without prescribing a cure. As Baker notes, Hemingway dramatically summarizes . . . the
moral predicament of his time by presenting and evaluating the things he has
known . . . . 8 What he knew was the social and cultural geography of Key West, Cuba, and
1 Carlos Baker, Hemingway: The Writer as Artist (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton
University Press, 1952), 205.
2 Ibid., 206.
3 John K. M. McCaffery, Ernest Hemingway: The Man and His Work (New York: Cooper
Square Publishers, Inc., 1969), 14.
4 Lewis qtd. in Baker Writer as Artist, 203.
5 Baker, 202.
6 Ibid., 206.
7 Ibid., 206.
8 Ibid., 206.
Western Civilization in general.9 He gave voice to his displeasure over encroaching big
government in the United States and questioned the practical value of revolution as a
means for freedom. A close reading of the novel through the lens of the American Dream
and the competing creedal values of liberty and democracy reveals deep understanding of
the social reality during the period. As Hemingway noted to his brother Leicester, To
Have and Have Not was . . . in many ways the most important story he had ever written. 10
Where as before he hadnt cared for life and was only concerned with his own productivity
as a creator, now . . . he really gave a damn about other peoples lives.
One of the earliest conversations directly relating To Have and Have Not to the
American Dream is Charles Hearns The American Dream in the Great Depression (1977).
Hearn looks at the cultural myth of successthe American Dreamas it collided with the
reality of the Great Depression. Drawing on a variety of cultural texts, from how-tosucceed guidebooks, inspirational works, fiction and nonfiction, to popular magazines,
sociological studies, gangster/tough-guy/proletarian novels to the drama and fictions of
major writers like Hemingway, Hearn attempts to capture the cultural phenomenon
anchoring the Dream. His conclusion strikes at the contemporary reality of the American
Dream: attitudes . . . endlessly complex, confusing, and contradictory.11 Such complexities
are found in popular fiction where the rags-to-riches myth of success is reaffirmed amid
disillusionment and despair. Popular magazines and how-to guides proffered Horatio
Alger prescriptions for success. Cautionary tales qualified the Dream, acknowledging the
reality of the times. Yet many Americans held tightly to their expectations of the Dream
while . . . ignoring or distorting objective reality despite the major novelists and
playwrights of the period showing nothing but disillusionment with the traditional
American Dream of success. 12
Hearn places Hemingways To Have and Have Not among those writers who showed
an interest and sympathy for ordinary little men, the losers, and the outsiders of American
society.13 In many forums, such individuals in the 1930s came to replace the business
tycoons as American Dream heroes. Captains of industry who had developed financial and
social empires from nothing were cast aside in favor of average individuals who garnered a
meager measure of success, if any at all. The gangster-tough guy tradition emergent
during the Depression, laced with hardboiled detectives, gangsters, racketeers, and losers,
provided a more appealing example of a struggle to survive than did the meteoric rise of
the likes of Carnegie or Rockefeller. Cynical, sometimes brutal and often self-destructive
struggles to survive and succeed in a jungle world, Hearn asserts, represent a dark
contrast to the tradition of the idealistic, ambitious, and fabulously successful self-made
man.14 Writers such as Steinbeck, Dos Passos, Saroyan, and West provided readers with
struggling characters such as poor farmers, the dispossessed, the grotesque, prostitutes,
9 Ibid., 203.
10 Qtd in Robert W. Lewis, Hemingway on Love (Texas: University of Texas Press, Austin,
11 Charles R. Hearn, The American Dream in the Great Depression (Westport, Connecticut:
Greenwood Press, 1977), 192.
12 Ibid., 193.
13 Hearn, 109.
14 Ibid., 110.
losers, misfits, and other outsiders. The victim-hero resonated with readers in the 1930s.
Hemingways Harry Morgan is just such an individual.
To Have and Have Not constitutes serious literature featuring the tough-guy hero.
Harry Morgan, outsider, loser, and victim, combines tenacity and refusal to succumb to the
circumstances of the depressiona tough-guy hero par excellence.15 In truth Harrys
American Dream story is less dream and more nightmare. The world of the Hemingway
protagonist throbs with poverty, exploitation, and injustice. To survive and support his
family, Harry must function outside the law and skirt social norms. He is continually
restricted by being a Have Not. Tough and determined, he moves among systems of
inequality meant to maintain class distinctions. Harrys . . . struggle to survive is essentially
amoral . . . . He is a man more of . . . cold ruthlessness than sentiment.16 Despite rugged
individualism rooted in physical strength and a strong sexuality, Harry continues in steep
decline, taking every attack and punishment head-on. Hearn, citing Hemingways
acknowledged theme of the novelthe decline of the individualand Harrys dying
wordsNo matter how a man alone aint got no bloody fucking chanceobserves the
novel as constituting . . . powerful, negative study of the viability of individualism in
modern America.17 In essence, individuals like Harry, despite classic American Dream
traits of rugged self-reliance, hard work, and strength of character, fight a losing battle,
finding no room in a cramped world of brutal competition and limited possibility.18 Key
West of the 1930s offers Hemingway a cross-section of such a world.
By putting Key West, Floridaand to a lesser degree, Havana, Cubaunder a
microscope, Hemingway captured the diseased organism that was the American Dream in
the Great Depression. Baker notes that Hemingway could then examine the smear on the
slide to see what malignant forces were at work.19 At work was a locale that included
every level of society, including Conchs, who eked out a subsistence living and who
represented the underclass: Harry, Albert, Freddie and Bee-lips, all marginalized because
of the economic downturn. They, like the Vets in the novel, placed there by the government,
are the common men. Presented is a burgeoning group of New Dealers determined to lift
Key West out of poverty by making it a destination for touristsa project in gentrification.
The outer margins of the United States would become a playground for the intellectual elite
(Gordon and MacWalsey), the rich (from Bradley to the grain broker), and bureaucrats in
the Federal administration (Harrison) ignorant of and uncaring toward the local
inhabitants displaced by the Federal Emergency Relief Agency (FERA). The novel offers
Hemingways commentary on the Great Depression, the evils of capitalism, the failure and
encroachment of the government, his disdain for fashionable writers, his distrust of
ideological extremes, and a lament over a lack of space for sporting people in the modern
15 Ibid., 124.
16 Hearn, 125.
17 Ibid., 124.
18 Ibid., 124.
19 Baker, 206.
20 Ernest Hemingway, To Have and Have Not (New York: Scribner, 1937), 93.
Toni Knott, editor of One Man Alone, essays on To Have and Have Not, observes:
Geographic and historical grounding is an integral part of To Have and Have Not.21 In
terms of time and place, Knott is quick to remind the reader that although To Have and
Have Not is fiction, the larger context of Key West in the Great Depression is an integral
element to a reading of the story. Each of the narrative linesMorgans life, the people on
the yachts, the Gordons and the Vetsstand as complete entities meant to be read against
each other. Nonetheless, a Hemingway work demands . . . thorough grounding in the place
and times upon which it centers.22 Knott demonstrates how the novel is accurate in its
depiction of current events. Hemingway witnessed the devastation, depression, and
change suffered by a place he loved. Late 1920s Key West offered Hemingway . . . a total
immersion in the sensuous experience of living.23 The Gulf Stream, the food, the initial
seclusion, his Mob or gang of regulars, provided him the opportunity to strike a balance
between life and work. Lawrence R. Broer notes: The island harmonized tension within
his complex nature, allow(ing) him to resolve (albeit tentatively) conflicting roles with
which he struggled all his adult life.24 Mornings were dedicated to work; afternoons
allowed for monsteringfishing for giant marlin. He also found a kindred connection
with several of the locals such as Joe Josie Russell, Bra Sanders, and transplant Toby
Tobes Bruce. 25 However, three major events changed the tenor of Hemingways
enchanted island: the building and opening of the Overseas Highway; the 1935 Labor
Day Hurricane; and the market crash of 1929 with its ensuing economic depression
producing FDRs New Deal program. Each events profoundly affected Hemingways
thinking about the Dream.
Dan Monroe explains, unlike the rest of Florida in the 1920s, Key West missed the
economic expansion experienced by the most of the state as a boom. A tariff on pineapples
killed a major canning employer, the sponge trade all but vanished, and the cigar industry
uprooted and moved to Tampa. Prior to the market crash, the Key West community had
lost some fourteen thousand jobs. These factors and the imminent downturn after 1929
reduced the remaining islanders to stark penury.26 By July 1934, nearly 80% of the
islands inhabitants were on relief.27 Even prior to the crash, the islands governing body
was looking for a way to spur economic growth. Thus, as Shiflet and Curnutt note in their
essay Letters and Literary Tourism, . . . while Hemingway believed he had discovered a
realm whose rusticity was conducive to writing, he was actually relocating to a place
21 Toni D. Knott, ed. One Man Alone: Hemingway and To Have and Have Not (New York:
University Press of America, Inc., 1999), 65.
22 Knott, One Man Alone, 66. 23 Baker qtd. in Lawrence R. Broer, Only in Key West, in Key West Hemingway: A
Reassessment, ed. Kirk and Sinclair. (Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009),
24 Broer, 49.
25 See Lawrence R. Broers essay Only in Key West: Hemingways Fortunate Isle for a
more in depth sketch of EHs Key West experience.
26 Dan Monroe, Hemingway, the Left, and Key West, in Key West Hemingway: A
Reassessment, ed. Kirk and Sinclair (Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009),
27 Ibid., 92.
already desperate to sell itself as a tourist destination . . . .28 This goal was brought to
fruition when regional FERA administrator Julius F. Stone, Jr. descended on Key West and
commenced a series of New Deal programs meant to provide relief. Aside from manual
labor projects (like those in To Have and Have Not), the Administration had its sights set on
making the island a tourist destination.
Residential homes were rented out to winter tourists, manual labor projects
employing those on relief beautified the island, and an active campaign of promotion
29 Stone had a full-color travel guide created, Key West in Transition: A Guidebook for
Visitors, including among its highlights Hemingways Whitehead Street house.30
Hemingway objected to being advertised as a local celebrity, one response an Esquire essay
entitled The Sights of Whitehead Street. In it, he repudiates the positioning of a serious
author as a celebrity. The essay, as Shiflet and Curnutt explains, . . . reflects Hemingways
effort to reestablish his artistic reputation in the mid-1930s by relocating his writing from
the timelier contexts . . ., avoiding the fashionable writing expected by his critics. The
publication of the visitors guide combined with the Overseas Highway, increased the
islands share of tourism between 1934 and 1935 by roughly 80%.31 Unfortunately, from
beginning to end, Hemingway disdained both the touriststypically the wealthy writers,
artists, and fashionable menand FDRs New Deal, castigating them in To Have and Have
Not. Finally, to add insult to injury, the governments refusal to evacuate the bonusmarching veteransWorld War I veterans placed in Key West to build the Overseas
Highwayand the local inhabitants prior to the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, solidified
Hemingway view of the administration.
In a letter to Maxwell Perkins September 7, 1935, Hemingway recounted his horror
upon entering Lower Matecumbe Key after the hurricane passed. With 700 to 1000 dead
and unburied, Hemingway concluded: The veterans in those camps were practically
murdered.32 Comparing the scene to carnage he experienced in World War I, Hemingway
grew furious. He blamed the Roosevelt administration and the National Weather Bureau.
In his letter to Perkins and later again in his New Masses article Who Murdered the Vets,
Hemingway, as James H. Meredith notes, writes a searing indictment of bureaucratic
callousness that . . . accused Franklin D. Roosevelts administration not of reckless
indifference or even manslaughter but of homicide . . . .33 Hemingway mournfully asserts
28 See Shiflet and Curnutt, Letters and Literary Tourism: Hemingway as Your Key West
Correspondent in The Sights of Whitehead Street, in Key West Hemingway: A
Reassessment, ed. Kirk and Sinclair (Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009),
29 Both Knott and Monroe cite Garry Boulands State of Emergency: Key West in the
Great Depression, Florida Historical Quarterly 67 (October 1988): 166-83.
30 Shiflet and Curnutt ,227.
31 Ibid., 225.
32 Carolos Baker, Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters 1917-1961 (New York: Scribner
Classics, 1981), 421.
33 James H. Meredith, Hemingways Key West Band of Brothers: The World War I Veterans
in Who Murdered the Vets? and To Have and Have Not, in Key West Hemingway: A
Reassessment, ed. Kirk and Sinclair (Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2009),
that plenty of time existed to evacuate the inhabitants of the upper Keys. A train wasnt
sent until the storm started to hit, and it didnt get within thirty miles of the two lower
veterans camps before being washed away. Hemingway writes, If they had taken half the
precautions with them that we took with our boat not one would have been lost.34 The
collective camps populationVets, officials, and support personnelrepresented a cross
section of 684 draftsmen, lawyers, high-school principals, actors and a boxer. Of course,
there were also those individuals typically associated with the Depression such as
itinerants and the dispossessed. 35 These victims were building the Overseas Highway. The
project was the Roosevelts administrations attempt to deal with those Vets whod
participated in the 1932 Bonus-March on Washington demanding that Congress pay early
on the benefits promised. Eventually Gen. Douglas MacArthur (under President Hoover)
was called in to remove those Vets who wouldnt take a deal and leave, many of whom
were relocated to the Overseas project.36 Hemingway fully recognized that many of the
Vets were mentally unstable, even pathological; however, he also demanded they be
recognized as human beings, not property.
In To Have and Have Not Hemingway recognizes the cost of war on the Vets and
their ignored humanity. He viewed them beyond mere labor for exploitation and asserting
the need for fair compensation, not a dole wage that couldnt feed them. Meredith places
Hemingways treatment of the Vets within the frame of the larger collective by stating: the
suffering of all standing for the sufferings of the one. 37 He notes, Hemingway depicts the
veterans as a collective. They, like the local inhabitants, the Conchs, are cast aside for the
individualism represented by the material Haves. Through his evocation of the American
Dream, Hemingway demonstrates that neither the success of capitalism rooted rugged
individualism, nor the collectivism of the New Deal provides any means for achieving the
Despite Hemingways decline of the individual,38 all the elements for the achieving
the American Dream of a better, richer, and fuller life are present: rugged individualism,
equality of opportunity, laissez-faire capitalism, social mobility, a gospel of work, selfreliance, material acquisitiveness, ambition, education and luck rooted in hope. No one
character embodies all of these traits. The collective ensemble functions as an example of
the Dream appliedeach individual representing some aspect or version of the Dream.
Broadly, these versions fall into two categories, those that champion the individual, and
those that underscore the greater needs of the communityrepresenting the often
competing as well as aligned values of liberty and democracy. Hemingways evocation of
the Dream is not meant to affirm its existence or to provide instructions for its achievement.
It is a deadly serious commentary on the expectations traditionally associated with the
Dream while calling into question its efficacy and demonstrating its total collapse.
On the surface, To Have and Have Not presents a series of narratives and characters
representing the hallmarks of the American Dream achieved. As a destination for others,
the material Haves embody social mobility rooted in laissez-faire capitalism, material
34 Baker Selected Letters, 423.
35 Meredith, 244.
36 See Meredith for a thorough discussion of the Bonus March Vets.
37 Ibid., 246 and 247.
38 Ernest Hemingway to Maxwell Perkins. Baker, 448.
acquisitiveness, ambition, and education. In the popular mindset, they are the models for a
better, richer, and fuller life, worthy of emulation. Impervious to the social malaise of the
Great Depression they are the middle and upper classes of the economic ladder who in the
rubric of the American Dream are what the lower classes should aspire. They are examples
of the American Dream made good. Gordon, Laughton and MacWalsey, elite educated
intellectuals, champion the popular social order that makes the Dream possible. Above
them, the fullest potential of the Dream is realized with the uber-rich in the yacht basin.
The epitome of the material Haves, they bring to the narrative old money (Wallace
Johnston and Henry Carpenter), capital gain (a ), and Hollywood
fame (Dorothy Hollis), each emblematic of a richer life and the successful application of the
Having money, success, and social status positions the people in the yacht basin as a
model, for both the reader and the Have Nots, of the American Dream made good. They,
like Helene and Tommy Bradley, are the fashionable elite who give a look to the Dream.
Wallace Johnston is a composer of international fame whose money is garnered from silk
millsgiven his age, Old Money. Owner of the New Exuma II, the 38-year old graduate
from Harvard travels the world with his crew of twelve enjoying Bach, Scotch, and his
special pleasures.39 Among the gambling, drink, and sexual play, he enjoys the company
of another dilettante, Henry Carpenter. Carpenter, like Johnson, enjoys the money earned
by others. Despite his trust funds limits, his value as entertainment and good company
provides him access to the privileged world of wealth.
A seminal component of the elite moneyed world is the classic American capital
entrepreneurs such as the sixty-year-old grain broker. Whereas Johnston and Carpenter
can be viewed as the byproducts of Old Money, the grain broker represents the dogged
determinism of business successnew money and the American Dream. Lying in his
pajamas on the largest yacht in the basin, reading Darwins account of his trip to the
Galapagos, he is, as Randal Meeks suggests, the embodiment of Social Darwinism at its best.
With the conviction of survive or perish, the grain broker . . . does not regret the business
dealing he has had with others over the years, transactions whichwhile highly
advantageous to his financial statushave left others destitute and ruined.40 Pragmatic in
his dealings with the world, he did not think in any abstraction, but in deals, in sales, in
transfers and in gifts.41 As Calvin Coolidge once said, The Business of America is business.
All are equal, and if they pull themselves up by their bootstraps, with luck and determinism,
they will succeed. To that end the grain broker thought in . . . shares, in bales, in thousand
of bushels, in options, holding companies, trusts, and subsidiary corporations,42 while
living under the moniker that . . . only suckers worried. . . .43
The personification of virility and vitality, the grain broker had the common sense,
willingness, and skepticism to game the world of business and finance. With his success,
39 Hemingway, 232.
40 Randall A. Meeks, Winner Takes Winner Take Winner: Social Darwinism, in One Man
Alone: Hemingway and To Have and Have Not, ed. Toni D. Knott (New York: University
Press of America, Inc., 1999), 82.
41 Hemingway, 234.
42 Ibid., 234 and 235.
43 Ibid., 238.
wealth, and consumption of individualswomen as sexual objects; men as assets to be
acquired, exploited, and cast asidehe is the logical conclusion of Horatio Algers American
Dream using Darwins theory of natural selectionboy gets lucky (the grain broker
marries into money), boy uses guile and ingenuity to build a financial empire (the grain
broker uses his ability to manipulate people without regard to morality, pity, or remorse),
boy becomes the Dream (the grain broker as the Dream).44
The business success of the grain broker, and the success of the happy family on the
yacht next to his, emboldens the Dream of financial success for all. They, like he, capitalized
on the heartbeat of free enterprise, profit. Mother (dreaming of her garden), Father (man
of civic pride), daughter Frances (dreaming of her fianc), all sleep soundly and lovingly
having made their money from . . . selling something that everybody uses by the millions of
bottles, which cost three cents a quart to make, for a dollar a bottle in the large (pint) size,
fifty cents in the medium, and a quarter in the small.45 The users of their product are
grateful and continue to discover new applications, available to all at the same price
whether poor or a millionaire. Through the production of one good thing at a good price,
theyve become rich through mass demandmuch in the same way that Hollywood
provides its product and makes millionaires of its venture capitalists. Hemingways sketch
of successful American Dreams is centered on the pillar of the 20th century American
Dream: venture capitalism. Aboard the Irydia IV, Dorothy Hollis, a wealthy directors wife,
enjoys the fruits garnered from the factory of dreams, Hollywood, peddled to millions at an
equal price. In each example, Hemingway constructs a Dream rooted in consumption,
wealth, and fame.
The people on the yachts are all vapid, broken individuals who smash things up, and
are far from happy. Wallace Johnston, known from Algiers to Biskra, is infamous to the
point of being banned from Paris. His special pleasures have resulted in blackmail by
busboys and sailors alike. Hemingway marginalizes Johnston from his own social milieu.
Henry Carpenter, whose . . . friends had felt for some time that he was cracking up. . ., his
monthly income cut in half, ultimately commits suicide. Hemingway carefully reminds the
reader . . . The money on which it was not worth while for him to live was more than the
fisherman Albert Tracy had been supporting his family on at the time of his death . . . .46
The grain broker, alone and impotent, spends the nights worrying despite his belief that
only suckers worried, unable to stave off death by alcoholism, and the reality of impending
tax evasion charges. Finally, for Dorothy Hollis, sexual gratification and Luminal are the
only options to combat the insomnia brought on by a vain life marked by the infidelity and
fickleness of men. In their success, rooted in extreme individualism, the material Haves
achieved the American Dream at the expense of others. In To Have and Have Not,
Hemingway intentionally includes the damage done by the grain broker (inducing despair
and suicide in others); the emptiness of Johnstons and Carpenters lives despite their
wealth; and the constant want and lack of satisfaction Hollis life has despite her multiple
lovers and the ability to travel the world. The commercialism and consumption that gives
them their status as Haves is underpinned by the very capital marketplace that has
failedeven destroyedthe Have Nots in the novel.
44 See Meeks for a more detailed discussion of Social Darwinism and To Have and Have Not. 45 Hemingway, 241.
46 Ibid., 233.
Like the material Have, Hemingway demonstrates the failure of the intellectual
elite to counter the affects of the Depression. Historical examples and anecdotal beliefs
charge academia and culture with the task of bringing into focus the reality of social
inequities and individual despair. The Social Realists of the 1930s believed their cause to
be one of crusading against social inequities. Hemingway had nothing but disdain for them
or the critics that elevated their work. In a letter to Ivan Kashkin he states plainly, Here
criticism is a joke.47 Hemingway concludes that writers and bourgeois critics with a
penchant for using political ideology as a benchmark for good writing . . . do not know
their ass from a hole in the ground, and he believed, none of it has anything to do with
literature . . . .48 Critics like Granville Hicks, in his review of Green Hills of Africa, wanted
Hemingway to address the contemporary American scene . . . . Hicks asserted: I should
like to have Hemingway write a novel about a strike . . . because it would do something to
Hemingway.49 They hoped by writing about strikes, Hemingways work would become
more socially relevant. Although Hemingway noted to his brother, in writing To Have and
Have Not he was changed, his approach to Social Realism and the value of the academy as a
means for fixing the plight of the dispossessed and alienated remained constant. In To
Have and Have Not, such fashionable writers, are depicted as insecure, frivolous, and
impractical in their approach.
As writers of Social Realism, Gordon and Laughton in the novel are the supposed
voice of the proletariat. They are the ones who have to know about everything in order to
make the Dream possible.50 Observers of social phenomenon, they create tales of strikes
in textile factories and social unrest where the workers are brought to revolt by labor
organizers. Like the fashionable writers Hemingway castigates in his letters, they seek
to capitalize on their idealized notion of social analysis, under the belief that they have a
keener eye than mostdespite the reality of their skewed vision. Notwithstanding Robert
O. Stephens comment that Hemingways sketch of such characters are . . . too theatrical
and too obvious to be wholly convincing . . . , they strike a significant chord in their
comparison to the class below them and their clear lack of insight into the plight of the
Have Nots.51 Though heralded in classic Dream narratives as bearers of the Dream
social conscience, education, and an ability to see the inequitiesthey fail completely.
Richard Gordon, a bitter and jealous writer, changes his politics based on whats
fashionable and is accused by his wife of . . . sucking up to peoples faces and talking about
them behind their back.52 Arrogant and lost, like James Laughton, in a fog of alcohol,
Hemingway presents Gordon in a manner exposing both his deluded sense of self and
failure to represent the ideals he believes will make the Dream possible. The complete
sketch of Gordons creative process in chapter nineteen of To Have and Have Not exposes in
entirety his failures. With a greater degree of knowledge than Gordon, the reader
witnesses him contextualize Marie Morgan as being appalling, a big ox and looking like
47 Baker Selected Letters, 417 and 418
48 Ibid., 417 and 418.
49 Qtd in Monroe, 93.
50 Hemingway, 140.
51 Robert O. Stephens, Ernest Hemingway: The Critical Reception (New York: Burt Franklin
&* Co., Inc.), 183. 52 Hemingway, 186.
a battleship. He falsely imagines her husband having nothing but derision for her, and in
what he believes to be true insight, concludes: Her husband when he came home at night
hated her, hated the way she had coarsened and grown heavy, was repelled by her. . . .53 In
fact, as the reader knows, Harry loves Marie in every aspect of her existence and although
Gordon believes his flash of perception to be true, it fails to capture Harrys constant
regard and care for Marie and the girls. Finally, just as Gordon misses the mark,
Hemingway presents Professor MacWalsey (ironically an economist in the Great
Depression) as a failed academic who has anesthetized his emotional pain to the point of
alcoholism, and seeks a long-term solution to his loneliness by stealing another mans wife.
Hemingway continued his criticism of the Dreams perversion in his unflattering
assessment FDRs New Deal representatives. His embodies his anger and aggravation with
the governments role in the realization of the American Dream in Frederick Harrisons
hunt for Harry Morgan and the inability of Albert to feed his family while on Relief. Harry
tells Albert in frustration: There aint any work at living wages anywhere. An indictment
of the capital narrative, Harry reminds him that he digs sewers for seven and a half dollars
a week. The safety net of the Dream is a failure, Harry to Albert: You got three kids in
school that are hungry at noon. You got family that their bellies hurt . . . .54 The
government of the people, by the people, and for the people, doesnt listen or care for the
people, even when they protest as a community. A meager wage that doesnt feed a family
is tantamount to slave labor. Captain Willie exclaims in frustration: Who the hell do you
eat off of with people working here in Key West for the government for six dollars and a
half a week?55 Despite the reality of Willies protest, Harrison and his secretary believe it
to be more sporting hunting down people like Harry and WesleyThis is better fun than
fishing, eh, Doctor?than fulfilling their proper role as facilitators of the Dream.
Despite critics finding Hemingways inclusion of those narratives other than
Morgans as excessive, they are a necessary counterpoint for understanding his larger
message concerning the American Dream. Through them Hemingway is able to give an
ironic twist to historical expectations of the Dream, especially as compared to Harry and
the other Have Nots. In To Have and Have Not the Dream is turned inside out. Whether
from a point of irony or satire, Harry is the truest measure of the American Dream. Yet,
arguably, as murderer, smuggler, robber, and loner he is the most despicable character in
the narrative. As Carlos Baker notes, Morgan is the rugged individualist fighting against the
odds. Like the great frontiersman of American history, he seeks success in Hemingways
last frontier, the Gulf Stream. It, and other such ocean currents, are . . . the last wild
country there is left . . . , affirming a geographical aspect often associated with the Dream.57
Like the Western landscape, the Stream, in its state of being untamed and untapped,
provides the greatest possibility for the application of pluck and luck.
Harry knows this landscape, he understands it, and is able to capitalize on the
experiential knowledge he has gained from it. He knows how to navigate the waters
53 Ibid., 176 and 177.
54 Hemingway, 95.
55 Ibid., 81.
56 Ibid., 82.
57 Ibid. qtd in Baker, 176.
between Key West and Havana, and as helmsman, you got to have confidence steering.58
He knows his trade and is true to it. With his boat, he has a chance to work hard,
experience luck and hope, instead of just watching it all go to hell.59 He knows that in
order to catch big fish like marlin, one needs . . . the best tackle you can buy.60 Morgan
has the skill and understands the nuance required for a successful day on the water. When
one fishes for such monsters they need to keep the drag off so you can slack to him when
he hits, 61 because there isnt any line will hold them.62 The best line, tackle, and even
bait-man are all acquired in order to hook one good. He understands the Streams
currents and its inhabitants. When he looks out over the Stream and sees it running . . .
nearly purple with whirlpools. . . , and flying fish casting shadows like Charles Lindberg
crossing the Atlantic, he tells Johnson, I think youre going to have a chance to fight one
today.63 The boat is headed in the right direction at the right speed and the bait is . . .
bouncing along on the swell. Acknowledging a perfect daythe right time, the right wind,
and possibly the right luckHarry makes Johnsons desire to hook, fight, and land my
fish myself possible.64
All the conditions for giving Johnson the rugged individualist frontier experience,
epitomizing a desired sense of masculinity, are made possible. However, Johnson doesnt
measure up; he will not be the classic Dream hero that Harry represents. In fact, Johnson is
the antithesis of what is expected of an American Dream hero. On the most basic level of
the Dream, he is unwilling to grow and learn. He, like the other Haves, merely wants to
exude the Dream of success, rather than be the Dream of success. Ineffectively, Harry
admonishes him to keep the rod butt in the socket on the chair, and keep the drag off, to
keep from being pulled out of the chair or to not give the fish an opportunity to snap the
line.65 Given more than one opportunity, nonetheless, Johnson fails, losing the fish, the
tackle, and flies off without paying, thus leaving Harry without any chance to recoup his
losses. Hemingways view of Johnson is markedly given when Harry notes, . . . it was a
sloppy way to fish.66 Hemingway reminds the reader of the importance of a job well done
and the importance of doing things properlyneither of which Johnson does. He and such
individuals are the counterpoint to Harry. Though they are, as Lewis notes, the financial
Haves, they are in reality, the Have Nots in their lack of substance as individuals, as well
as their lack of concern and connection to the greater community at the heart of the
Throughout the narrative Harry demonstrates the autonomy and agency necessary
for the realization of the American Dream. In his dying assertion: No matter how a man
alone aint got no bloody fucking chance. . . , Hemingway affirms the importance of
58 Hemingway, 67.
59 Ibid., 107.
60 Ibid., 25.
61 Ibid., 12.
62 Ibid., 18.
63 Ibid., 13.
65 Hemingway, 12.
66 Ibid., 20.
67 See Lewis for a, in depth discussion of agape love in To Have and Have Not.
community that is encapsulated in Harrys fight for the family.68 Self-reliant to a fault,
through hard work and determination Harry ekes out an existence maintaining a perceived
independence as provider for his family. For Harry, the locus of a better, richer, and fuller
lifethe Dreamis the preservation of the domestic space: his home, his wife Marie and
their three daughters. All that he does in the narrative, both good and bad, is directed
toward this effort. Rather than go on Relief, he asserts that his . . . kids aint going to have
their bellies hurt and I aint going to dig sewers for the government for less money than will
feed them.69 Putting him at the margins of society, he engages in risky behavior to stave off
the privation experienced by others. Activities such as smuggling, rum running, theft, and
murder underpin his individualist belief: I dont know who made the law but I know there
aint no law that you got to go hungry. The killing of Mr. Sing , the willingness to kill Eddie,
along with defrauding the twelve Chinese he promised to carry to the States, and the
debacle of the trip with Wesley, are examples of his willingness to do whatever it takes to
maintain his American Dream: the preservation of family.
His Dream of domestic bliss is succinctly drawn at the end of part one. Sitting in his
living room smoking a cigar, drinking whiskey and listening to Gracie Allen on the radio
with his wife Marie, while his girls are at the movies, he lives a life different than the other
Conchs. The love that he and Marie have for each other stands in direct contrast to other
couples in the narrative, especially those in the economic category of the Haves.
Throughout his decline, Harry has nothing but regard and concern for Marie, a fact
reiterated as he lays dying on the boat thinking: I wish I could do something about
Marie.70 Marie, at every turn professes her love for Harry in her belief that, They dont
know what Ive got. They wont never know what Ive got.71 Despite their categorization of
being the least admirable in societyHarry an ex-police offer who has commits horrific
crimes; Marie an ex-prostitutethey stand in direct contrast to the failed relationships of
Albert and his wife, as well as, Helen and Richard Gordon. Albert does everything he can to
be away from his nagging and disdainful wife. Helen Gordon concluding Richard Gordons
picknose love is really just another dirty lie.72
Despite his determination to provide for his family at all cost, whether directly or
indirectly, Harrys approach continually isolates him and puts him at odds with the greater
community. He sacrifices his interpersonal connections and ultimately his own humanity.
In Alberts narrative, Harrys asserts: It would be better alone, anything is better alone
Here, Hemingway acutely demonstrate the degree to which Harry has become a loner.73 In
the first, Albert laments how Harry has changed, mean and full of self-pity. In the second,
Harry, trapped by the need to participate in a doomed venture asking: . . . what choice do I
have? Harrys downward spiral and his actions complicate his position in the Dream
narrative. In this and Hemingways castigation of the other characters, the reader is left
with the realization that the Dream altogether fails. At no point in the narrative is it not
complicated by social and personal failure. Effectively, Hemingway uses . . . those
68 Hemingway, 225.
69 Hemingway, 96.
70 Ibid., 174.
71 Ibid., 113.
72 Hemingway, 185 and 186.
73 Ibid., 104.
admirable American instruments. . . of the Colt and Smith & Wesson that are . . . so easily
carried, so sure of effect, so well designed to end the American dream. . . when it becomes
a nightmare.74 The mess left for relatives to clean up is the end result of a pursuit that as
a cultural ideal is flawed when applied.
Hemingway uses the social circumstances of Key West in the Great Depression to
demonstrate the failure of the American Dream as traditionally conceived. The social
order of James Truslow Adams is found wanting and the Jeffersonian rugged individualism
castigated for its isolationism. The burgeoning New Deal community and the super rich
have no room nor concern for the plight of Harry Morgan and his peers. Hemingways
consternation over the gentrification of the island emerges in the downward spiral of
Morgan and the death of Tracy. Despite Morgans criminality, Hemingway gives him access
to the Dream through the domestic space represented in Marie. In Harrys actions and
desperation he embodies the spirit of determination and fortitude that is the bedrock of the
Dream, but the social order destroys any opportunity he had for realizing his Dream of the
Good Lifethe family. Hemingways parting message is an indictment not of the Dream,
but the application and expectations of the Dream in a society that has no room for the
individual who in their struggle to achieve the Dream fail to fit expectations of normalcy.
74 Ibid., 239.
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