Hemingway’s fourth novel, To Have and Have Not, is another snapshot of humanity’s dark side. It’s also a book that shifts perspective frequently, sometimes in head-scratching ways.
Part One is titled “Harry Morgan (Spring)” and it tells the tale of a boat owner in Cuba who has a “rummy” named Eddy as his sometime first mate. It is Harry who is the “I” narrator. His story is that of a man driven to illegal activities when a man named Johnson charters his boat for “eighteen days at thirty-five dollars” per day, loses Harry’s “rod and reel and line” overboard through sheer carelessness, and then skips town without paying Harry, leaving him broke and desperate.
To make up for the shortfall, Harry seeks work transporting 12 “Chinks” in the dead of night. Where he was to transport them or why isn’t stated. The venture goes badly and Harry kills Mr. Sing, the organizer of the clandestine operation. But he gets away with it, despite the fact that a very drunk Eddy was on board to witness everything.
Part Two is a short (pages 67-87) section titled “Harry Morgan (Fall).” It tells the tale of rum-running job gone terribly awry. The story is told in the third person. A “nigger” named Wesley is shot and bleeding in the bottom of Harry’s boat. Harry himself has been shot in the arm and worries that he’ll lose his arm if he doesn’t get to a doctor soon.
Part Three is titled “Harry Morgan (Winter)” and it opens with another narrator, someone named Albert, who speaks in the first person as he describes Harry’s condition now – his arm has been amputated. Albert’s turn as narrator lasts only for one chapter (Chapter Nine). Harry returns as the first-person narrator in Chapter Ten.
There is no Part Four. And no “Harry Morgan (Summer).”
Reading this book is like watching the 1996 Coen brothers movie Fargo, starring Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, and Steve Buscemi. Fargo is a movie about a ne’er do well who makes one stupid mistake after another, never quite attaining his goal. It’s a frustrating movie, as To Have and Have Not is a frustrating book. I’m halfway through and I get the sinking feeling more bad stuff is going to happen to Harry and to those around him.
I’ve never read an author who shifts narrative perspective as often as Hemingway does. I’m not sure why he feels the need to tell the tale from various perspectives. But, in that way, his book is a lot like the 1994 Quentin Tarantino movie Pulp Fiction, which tells a story from different perspectives.
I can see why Humphrey Bogart was picked to play Harry Morgan in the 1944 big-screen adaptation of Hemingway’s novel. Bogie would play the hangdog, hapless Harry Morgan perfectly.
NOTE: I just noticed that Chapter Eleven is written in the third person. Who the observer is now I don’t know.