Honestly, I have a hard time reading classics. I don’t always understand the antiquated language or the story’s context so they can be difficult to get into. That’s why I tend to give classics a longer chance before giving up on them. Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not was different: it had me in the beginning, lost me in the middle, and didn’t come back around until the last few pages.
The main character of To Have and Have Not is supposedly Harry Morgan. I say “supposedly” because the story opens on his point of view, tells how he got shafted by a rich guy who chartered his boat and then skipped out on his bill, and then explains that he began to smuggle contraband out of desperation. That sounds like the makings of an interesting story. But Hemingway ends the section and skips ahead to his next illegal job, dropping the reader into the middle of the scene without giving us the “Point A to Point B” explanation.
Once Morgan’s boat has been taken by the Coast Guard, Hemingway gives us a bizarre bedroom scene between Morgan and his wife. While this would have been a great opportunity to legitimize their relationship so the reader will sympathize with them and understand Morgan’s desperation, that doesn’t happen.
Morgan goes to Freddy’s and Hemingway takes the opportunity to introduce us to the “haves” in this universe – rich tourists who are above these problems. Their stories are sprinkled in between Harry’s illegal jobs and then take over after his last job leaves him wounded. While he lies in his boat, shot and bleeding, these men are watching drunks fight and arguing with their wives. This goes on for pages and pages while Morgan is dying. When the story finds him again, he has died and his wife Marie is contemplating how she is going to take care of their daughters, since they had little money and she is “empty” without Harry.
And yet…I had no sympathy for any of them. A byproduct of the style, perhaps, but none of the characters had defining features that made me like them. If the point was that desperation drives honest men to do horrible things, I needed more proof that he was actually a good man.