To Have And Have Not

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade April 2001

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Hemingway's To Have and Have Not Unlike the novels we have read up to this point, To Have and Have Not is a "man's novel". (I realize this idea seems sexist, but it is common to think of gunfights, swearing, and drinking as "man stuff".) The action scenes in this novel were never far apart and one thing the book could never be called is slow. Something that seemed to be lacking in the book though, were believable relationships between the men and women and the way sexual characteristics were portrayed. I have heard something about Hemingway's writing in the past being gender-bias, but it wasn't until this novel that I could see some element of male and female relationships missing and odd ways of defining gender-based qualities used. When I read about Hemingway's poor portrayal of characters in the past it referred to only women and pointed out that their little use as main characters echoed the problems Hemingway had in his own relationships with women and this explained why his writing ability failed in this area.

I don't know if this is true about Hemingway's past influencing characters, but I feel that the inaccuracy in character traits includes both men and women and is best seen in Harry and in his relationship with his wife. The main character, Harry, is portrayed as a man who loves his family and wants to care for them. He is also portrayed as a murderer, a man who drinks in every scene, a bully, a criminal, and in general, a tough guy. Hemingway tries to make Harry the only "real" man in the book by making him tough and contrasting him against other male characters who were even "worse" than him. The other males were drunks, mass murderers, unfaithful, weak men who allowed themselves to be pushed around, and arrogant. Characters like the bank robbers, the rummies, and the tourists were supposed to make Harry seem like a human being with direction. Harry may have been more noble than a few drunks and some heartless killers, but he still wasn't a believable male character, because he was one sided.

We never see Harry as a caring person. If Harry was a "good man" who cared about his family why did he treat his wife the way he did. Harry's cruel actions seem to overpower the breadwinning (and illegal) actions he does for his wife. In every scene they are together, Harry is bossing his wife around and treating her poorly. We see this in the scene before Harry's death, "Go on and get it and bring it down here. Get me some coffee." Harry doesn't ask his wife for anything in this novel, but demands it.

This way of demanding things illustrates the odd relationship Hemingway creates between Harry and his wife. When he asks for something the answer is always "Yes, Hun" or some other term of endearment, but we never see this kindness in Harry. Hemingway was trying to create a tough man, but portraying Harry the way he did seems to have gone too far. Harry comes and goes, demands his supper, and pushes his wife around. His wife, in contrast swoons over him. She doesn't care he has lost an arm during an illegal action or is never home, but seems to be like a schoolgirl in love. She has been with lots of men in her life, but she thinks about Harry as if he were perfect. "Anything about him I don't mind. I've been a lucky woman. There ain't no other men like that." Lucky for the world there aren't any other men like Harry, or women like his wife, who believe a one-armed, demanding, murdering convict, who's never around is the perfect kind of man! The heartless and tough actions leave him seeming one sided and the obedient and "mushy" actions of his wife make her seem the same. Even if Harry is a strong willed man and his wife madly in love with him, Hemingway seems to stress these things too often making their relationship and Harry's behavior seem unbelievable and hard to relate to real life. I think this is a shame, because Harry's relationship with his family and wife could have been a way to portray Harry as a man who is a good man deep inside and this fact would have certainly made it easier for the reader to care when he dies at the end and his sentimental wife is left alone. Action and suspense can only take a novel so far. Without solid and complex characters storylines fall apart.