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AMST 246: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner
- Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, Part II
Professor Wai Chee Dimock concludes her discussion of To Have and Have Not by showing how, in the context of the Cuban Revolutions and the Great Depression, characters devolve into those who “Have” and those who “Have Not.” While protagonist Harry Morgan may look like a political and economic “Have Not”–he neither supports the revolution nor possesses enough money to extract himself from its seedier operations–his ability to bring happiness to his wife Marie makes him a social “Have” in a more profound sense. Dimock casts Harry as a “mediated Have,” someone who, through the eyes of others, might be said to be in possession of something vital, denied to others with material and political satisfactions.
Warning: This lecture contains graphic content and/or adult language that some users may find disturbing.
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Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner
AMST 246 - Lecture 11 - Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, Part II
Chapter 1: The Film Version of To Have and Have Not [00:00:00]
Professor Wai Chee Dimock: Let’s start by talking a little bit about the film. We realize that the film was very different from the book. But it’s great screenwriting on the part of Faulkner, with many clever inventions from him, as Leslie pointed out. The lawyer, Bee-lips, in the novel becomes the occasion for a little joke about a dead bee, and how a dead bee can really sting you, really can be a really powerful sting. That joke then was repeated throughout the movie.
It’s a very ingenious script. I would urge you to see the movie on your own just to see what kind of a screenwriter Faulkner is. It’s very impressive to know that he could write something like The Sound of Fury, but he could also write the screenplay for To Have and Have Not. So it’s almost two sides of the spectrum in terms of writing.
This is just to alert you to the existence of the film. But I also wanted to use this as an occasion to talk about a remark that Howard Hawks made about the book, To Have and Have Not. in many ways adding insult to injury. There he was completely changing the plot line of the novel, but he also had some ungenerous things to say about the novel and about Hemingway. Because he was working with Hemingway, and Hemingway really was on record as being quite unhappy with the way that his novel was transformed.
Howard Hawks claimed to have heard from Hemingway that To Have and Have Not was a bunch of junk, and apparently that was the excuse for his completely changing the novel around. It started out being really good for nothing, no good. Which means that he should have the freedom to change it as he saw fit, which he did to a staggering degree. But Howard Hawks really began a tradition of people saying negative things about To Have and Have Not, and we can look at a few other instances of people expressing a lot of doubts about the novel.
Chapter 2: Criticism of To Have and Have Not [00:03:05]
This is one of the most extreme, Delmore Schwartz. “To Have and Have Not is a stupid and foolish book, a disgrace to a good writer, a book which should never have been printed. It contains passages of golden writing, and the parts of three good short stories– when one of these parts appeared in Esquire as a short story, it was much better there, and not broken up by the interposition of a chapter.” About as hostile a review as one could get. Although, I should also say that book reviews are a genre in themselves, and quite often book reviewers feel the need to be critical. It is completely within the convention of book reviewing.
Here’s another, to my mind, much more perceptive and much truer to the spirit of To Have and Have Not. From a great critic, Alfred Kazin. ”A new Hemingway? Not altogether. There are passages and passages in which the old icy brilliance comes through with the slippery rhythm, the virtual assonance, the artful grade of phrases fused with such laborious cleverness that the click-clack of the beat is like a hiss … (but also) an unusual awkwardness, for this is a Hemingway who is rather less sure of himself than usual, but a good deal more intense.”
This, to my mind, catches very well both what is good about the novel, and what makes it worth reading in my mind. But also, obviously, it points to some very clear defects about the novel. It’s also a very good characterization of Hemingway in terms of the old icy brilliance and the assonance in Hemingway’s prose that makes it almost like poetry at many moments. It’s a very good overall account of Hemingway. But also a special take and very, I think very true to the spirit of Hemingway in thinking that it’s both less well-crafted, but maybe closer to Hemingway’s heart.
One more quote from another critic, Michael Reynolds. Very understandable given the subject matter of To Have and Have Not. Reynolds says that Hemingway was “one of the least overtly political writers of his generation.” It’s a very interesting statement: Hemingway as “one of the least overtly political.” Does that mean that even though he’s not overtly political, that actually there’s a kind of a deep politics in the novel? Not overt, but something that once we look deeper, further, into the novel, we’ll get to see that there’s a political dimension there.
I would like to take that as a starting point to as whether or not To Have and Have Not is a political novel. As is the custom in this class, I would like to think about it on two different scales. One is through the macro history, that is the background to the novel, and we know that– because Harry Morgan had so much to do with Cubans who are trying to get to the United States in part one, and then the Cubans wanted to get back to Havana in part three– we know that the Cuban politics is very much there. Along with that and parallel of that, there is also the Great Depression in theUnited States. This is very much a novel of the 1930s. These are the macro politics that make up the context of the novel.
Moving to a somewhat different scale now, away from macro-politics, we can also look at the types of character and narrative technique. I’d like to think about the novel has different permutations of “have” and “have not,” so in that sense its really themes and variations on the title itself. I’ll be talking about Harry as a “Have Not” in several ways, linking back to the macro history of the novel.
But then what I really would like to make the case for, in the rest of the lecture, is Harry as a special kind of “have,” what I would call a mediated kind of “have.” That is, he becomes– even though he so obviously a “have not”– he becomes a “have” through the presence of somebody else. So this is what I mean by mediated “have,” through the presence of another person, either it could be Marie or it could be somebody like Richard Gordon, Harry gets to become a “have.”
This is an argument about Harry not being a “have” on his own, but becoming a “have” by virtue of a channeling process, by way of Marie. And he is channeled through Marie both because of the way she thinks about him, and also through the way he looks at her, and he is contrasted with Richard Gordon, contrasted with the way Richard looks at Marie, and contrasted with the way Richard Gordon talks to his own wife, Helen. It’s very much an orchestration, a kind of a dance really, among the characters in order for Harry to emerge as a “have” at the very end.
Chapter 3: Macro History of Cuba in 1930 [00:09:18]
But first of all, let’s go back to the macro history of Cuba in the 1930s. As you can see, the politics of Cuba was incredibly complicated in the ’30s. There were six presidents in three years, so you are under no obligation to remember the names of the presidents. I won’t even pronounce the names. So I just wanted to give you a sense of how long they were presidents. Most of the presidents were presidents for just a few months, in this case, less than a month, less than just a few months in the case of Ramon Grau. Just for three days in the case of Carlos Hevia. This beats everything. He was president for just one day, Manuel Marquez Sterling. And then slightly longer, a few months– that’s a record– and a few months.
It’s really clear, just from looking at the list of presidents of Cubabetween 1933 and 1936, that the politics was incredibly hard to figure out. As I mentioned last time, Hemingway was actually not in Cuba when he was writing To Have and Have Not. He was in the Bahamas. So it’s highly improbable that he would have been able to figure out the politics in Cuba in any intimate way. He would have been looking at it very much from the outside. He probably understood the politics of the Spanish Civil War that he was covering much, much better than the actual politics inCuba that was his setting.
Partly because of that, the presidents ofCubawere never mentioned. We don’t even know who was president then. Instead, what Hemingway gives us is a generic type. This is the young boy, Emilio, who is one of the passengers that has to be carried back toHavanaafter the bank robbery. This is the very dangerous trip for Harry. But he gets to talk to the boy quite a bit and liked him, but also kills him, but this is a generic type of the revolutionary, marked by his speech pattern.
“‘We are the only true revolutionary party,’ the boy said. ‘We want to do away with all the bold politicians, with all the American imperialism that strangles us, with the tyranny of the army. We want to start clean and give every man a chance. We want to end slavery of the guajiros, you know, the peasants. We just raise money for the fight,” the boy said. “To do that, we have to use means that later we would never use. Also we have to use people we would not employ later. But the end is worth the means.’”
Emilio is a young boy. But he talks like a much older person. He speaks in the voice of authority, and I don’t think that Hemingway is just giving this to us as a caricature. This is a kind of authority that comes from a certain vocabulary, a certain speech pattern. The boy almost didn’t have to think in order to say all those things because he’s so familiar with that kind of phrasing, that kind of idiom. He’s completely conditioned in that idiom, so that it really is second nature to him.
We can think a little bit about what it means to have that kind of second nature. I think that most of us tend to think that it is not good to have that kind of language grilled into us so that it’s almost a kind of reflex action for it to come out just like that. I think we tend to be very suspicious of people who talk in this kind of very dogmatic and generic kind of language, that you can hear two sentences and you know that this man is a radical, and he’s wearing his radicalism on his sleeve.
In fact, we don’t even know if Emilio’s true name is Emilio. He just says to Harry, you can call me Emilio. Going back to that famous line in Moby Dick, “call me Ishmael.” Many characters in American literature could say this to another character, “Call me something.” This is a minor local instance of this, but the fact is that we don’t know his true name. He’s just known by the name Emilio. That in itself is emblematic of the kind of character that he is.
But I want to go back to the point about what it means to have a second nature, and second linguistic nature. Even though our instinct, our gut reaction, is to be very suspicious of someone like that, I actually want to make the point that having a second nature like that is probably not the worst thing a human being can have. It is probably not the best thing a human being can have, but it probably is not the worst thing. Because it is a sort of religious faith that is cast in secular language. To the extent that we think that human beings need some kind of faith. It actually is very, very good to have that second nature.
Chapter 4: Harry as a Political “Have Not” [00:15:23]
So I think that Hemingway is partly caricaturing that style of talking. But he’s showing us what it means to have your being within that kind of language. It’s a problematic kind of being, most of us would reject it, but it is a kind of identity. In contrast, we can look at Harry– and this is the first instance when I would like to make a case for Harry as a “have not”– is that he just doesn’t have that kind of political conviction. He doesn’t have the second nature that is second nature to Emilio, and as a consequence, that’s how he talks:
“I want a drink, Harry was thinking. What the hell do I care about his revolution, f-word his revolution. To help the working man who robs a bank and kills a fellow works with him, and then kills that poor damned Albert that never did any harm. That’s a working man he kills. He never thinks of that with a family. It’s the Cubans runCubathey are double-cross each other, they sell each other out. They get what they deserve. To hell with their revolutions. All I got to do is make a living for my family and I can’t do that. Then he tells me about his revolution. To hell with his revolution.”
It’s a reaction that probably most of us would have. The Cubans, especially in the ’30s, that sort of revolution would feel that way to most people who were outside of it. But the point remains that feeling that way about the revolution gives Harry no alternative moral grounding. This speech is almost completely empty of any kind of moral foundation, any kind of political conviction. All he can say is I want a drink at this moment, and that I want to make a living for my family and I can’t do that.
It is almost a kind of total admission of defeat without having this dubious saving grace of some sort of political conviction that can point to some sort of exit from this horrible condition that you’re in. I’m not saying that Emilio represents a superior alternative to Harry. Quite the contrary. He’s deluded. I think that Hemingway is not leaving a lot of doubt about that. Emilio is deluded, but at certain points in one’s life, a certain degree of willful delusion is actually a very necessary fiction that lost human beings need.
It is probably better for Emilio to die still clinging to that political conviction. This is what happens to Harry when he cannot cling, when there’s really nothing for him to cling to. When he’s relying completely on his own mental resources, and there’s not a whole lot for him to cling to. He’s a pretty empty person left his own devices. So I would argue that this is the first instance of Harry as a “have not” only in the sense that he doesn’t have that dubious, but redeeming kind of second nature.
Chapter 5: The Great Depression in To Have and Have Not [00:19:05]
We also know that the Cuban revolutions, such as they were, were not the only reference point for the novel. To Have and Have Not is very much about Key West and Key West during the Great Depression. So this is Hemingway’s house, a very beautiful house, in Key West that he spends a lot of time in later, actually much, much later, not at this point.
But this would have been what people in Key West would have seen in during the Great Depression, the bread lines. This is one that is from theFloridahistorical archives. Most likely Key West, because Key West, which is a very prosperous city before the Great Depression, was especially hard hit by the depression. So the unemployment rate was 80%– 80%, of the citizens were actually on relief, and we see that Albert is someone who was on relief.
So this is about the most acute case study of the Great Depression that we’ll get in American literature, except that Hemingway is not really talking about the Great Depression in a frontal way. We can look at the way in which even the word Great Depression, without even the great, suggested to us that that is an illusion to that historical context. So this is how the Great Depression is registered by Harry.
“On the booze boat, Harry had the last sack over. ‘Give me the fish knife,’ he said to the nigger. ‘It’s gone.’ Harry pressed the self-starter and started the two engines. He put a second engine in her when he went back to running liquor when the depression had put charter boat fishing on the bum.”
There are at least two ways in which Harry, as a smuggler of liquor, two ways in which that is contextualized. First we don’t know about it. We can only conjecture in part one. In part two, Harry is both review to us as a smuggler, but we just think that maybe that’s just something he chooses to do. But then it comes out in the context of the Great Depression that he goes back to it, because the Great Depression has made the much more profitable charter boat fishing impossible. In part one he was still doing the charter boat fishing when he was cheated out of $825 by Mr. Johnson. That was still the charter boat fishing. That is no longer operative. The only way he could make a living is by smuggling liquor into theUnited States.
So right here, there’s this very oblique, very elusive way Hemingway indexes the Great Depression. I think that it’s really useful to think of the technique that Hemingway is using as a kind of indexing. It’s not a frontal, a full dressed description of the Great Depression, it’s just a cameo appearance that puts the depression in the index of the state of the novel. But it doesn’t engage it or put it in the foreground. I hope that you guys will talk about it in section, and why he chooses to talk about the depression in that way, in this very oblique fashion.
Chapter 6: Harry as an Economic “Have Not” [00:22:57]
But in this passage we can also see that Harry is a “have not” for at least three reasons. One is that he’s lost his original occupation, although there’s also the reference that he’s going back to smuggling liquor. So he must have been doing that at some earlier point. We don’t know why he was doing it. All we know is that he had been law abiding for quite a while, as an owner of a charter boat, and now he’s doing something that is illegal because of the Great Depression. So he loses his legal occupation.
Right now we also know that he’s in the process of losing all his liquor, because the customs are on him so he has to get rid of a load that costs a lot of money. But not only that, even that small detail about this fish knife, even that is gone. So in many ways To Have and Have Not is very detailed from the macro to the micro catalog of all the things that are being taken away from Harry. It really is adding insult to injury. You lose in a big way; you also lose in a very small way. That’s really the landscape of loss that Hemingway has created for Harry Morgan.
Chapter 7: Harry’s Loss of Choice as a “Have Not” [00:24:24]
Just one another portrait of him as a “have not,” and this is Harry thinking that he knows what those Cubans want to be taken back toHavana. He knows that they’re going to rob a bank, because every time he walks by a bank, he doesn’t want to look at the bank. So he actually knows that that’s what’s going to happen. He’s not so gullible as not to know the purpose of that trip. But he is not in a position to make any other choices at that point. So I would say that this is the ultimate measure of Harry as a “have not” is knowing that he should not be doing it, but having no other choice open to him.
“I could stay here now and I’ll be out of it, but what the hell would they eat on. Where’s the money coming from to keep Marie and the girls? I’ve got no boat, no cash, I’ve got no education. What can a one-armed man work at? All I’ve got is my cojones to peddle.”
So this is kind of the terrible odds against someone who would like to operate as an individual, wanting to be able at least to make a decision based on your own judgment. Everything in Harry’s judgment tells him that this is not something to do. His judgment is not at fault. His hands are tied. He has to go against his judgment and do something that everything in him would recoil against and warn him against.
So this is the ultimate emptying out of volition – every decisional process has been taken away from Harry. He loses material objects like the boat. The boat was confiscated by customs after he was found to be illegally smuggling liquor that was confiscated, so taken away from him. Now we know that he has no money, and obviously no education, and missing one arm. So it’s at this moment, this is the absolute low point, I would say, for Harry.
Chapter 8: Harry as an Ironic “Have” [00:26:52]
And now I want to go to a slightly different trajectory. What I like to suggest is actually the beginning of an outward trajectory. The beginning of this outward trajectory is going to be very, very stark. It is Harry as an ironic “have.” This is the moment when we know that Harry is dying. He’s been wounded. All the Cubans were killed by Harry. And Harry was also fatally wounded by Roberto, the big Cuban. So all of them were dying on the boat, but Harry was the last to die. This is the moment before his death, and what he has at that moment.
“He was on his back now with his knees drawn up and his head back. The water of the lake, that was his valley, was very cold. So cold that when he stepped in to its edge in numbed him. And he was extremely cold now, and everything tasted of gasoline, as though he had been sucking on a hose to siphon a tank. He knew there was no tank, although he could feel a cold rubber hose that seemed to have entered his mouth, and now was coiled, big, cold, and heavy all down through him. Each time he took a breath the hose, coiled, colder, and firmer in his lower abdomen, and he could feel it like a big, smooth moving snake in there about the sloshing of the lake.”
This is in chapter 20. Chapter 20: I urge you to read that chapter at least a couple of times. It is great writing. When the critics admitted to having really impressive prose in To Have and Have Not, they must have been thinking of Chapter 20. It’s just a great chapter, and it’s about a boat with dead men and the fish coming to fish on the drippings from the wounds on the dead man. But it’s a great description of human mortality against a sea of very vibrant, and obviously, living sea creatures. But the passage right here is a description, and I think that it maybe is a challenge from Hemingway– although I wouldn’t want to push this too much– a challenge to us to think about what it means to die, and what exactly do we have at the moment of death.
Harry actually does have something, although it’s not anything that anyone would want to have. He has this rubber hose that is inside him that’s making him colder and colder. It is not a possession that we would volunteer for. It’s a possession that most of us would like to have taken out of us. But it’s a possession nonetheless.
So I would like to at least put forth the possible argument that because of the kind of life that Harry has lived. Even though there’s so many strikes against him, even though all the odds are against him, the moment of death actually is his own moment in the sense that he’s living his physicality to his fullest. But this is not dying without knowing that you were dying, although he does lose consciousness after that. It is experiencing that to its fullest extent. And just having that register on every fiber of your being. I don’t know how much we want to push on this point, but I like to see this as the beginning of a kind of upward swing of the narrative. That this is the moment when we can begin to stop thinking of Harry as a “have not,” and to start thinking of him as a “have,” although a “have” in a very ironic sense, having a possession that most of us would much rather not have.
But from this point, I like to make a much more systematic argument about Harry as a “have,” and I do think that this is something that Hemingway is doing in a very deliberate fashion. So I would very much want to argue that this is actually the basic structure of To Have and Have Not is to show Harry as a “have” through the mediated presence of other people. So we’ll be looking at him through the Marie, and looking at him through Richard Gordon.
Chapter 9: Harry as a Mediated “Have” Through the Eyes of Marie [00:32:12]
So what Marie thinks about Harry. “I’m lucky, she was thinking. Those girls, they don’t know what they’ll get. I know what I’ve got and what I’ve had. I’ve been a lucky woman. I’ve been a lucky woman. There ain’t no other man like that. People ain’t never tried them, don’t know. I’ve had plenty of them. I’ve been lucky to have him.” It’s suggested to us that Marie was a sporting woman. That was her profession. So she’s had lots of men in her professional capacity. It is from that wealth of knowledge of men that she can say that Harry is, at that point, is the best. That she’s tried them all, and there’s just no one like Harry.
So it’s a dubious kind of compliment. You don’t want to have a prostitute testifying to the fact that you are the best when that happens to be your wife. Once again, Hemingway is really taking away with one hand what he’s giving with another. But there is no question that Harry has made Marie’s life the life that she’s enjoying that moment. That she’s having a good life. She’s having a good life only because of him. He is the thing that gives her a good life and that is the measure of what Harry has. So it’s a much more complicated mediated kind. He has something because of the good life that Marie has because of him. And without Marie, we wouldn’t have been able to say that.
This is the first upward swing of that trajectory towards Harry as a possible “Have.” I would like to add that is not just because of the way that he’s treated Marie, and the way that Marie is now having a good life because of him. But also because of the way he looks at Marie. So there is action coming from him as well. We can sort of understand why Marie is having a good life now, and why he has made all the difference to her life.
Here, Harry is going on this dangerous trip with the Cubans when he knows that it’s the bank robbery that is at stake. Marie wanted to go with him just to take care of the jugs, because he has only one arm at this point. She wants to do something for him on the boat and she wanted to come along. So he said, “All right,” he told her, And she got in beside him, a big woman, long-legged, big-handed, big hip, still handsome, a hat pulled down over her bleach-blonde hair. “What are you worried about, Harry? I don’t know. I’m just worried. Listen, are you letting your hair grow out? I thought I would. The girls have been asking me. To hell with them. You keep it like it is. Do you really want me to? Yes, he said, that’s the way I like it. You don’t think I look too old? You look better than any of them.
So that’s why. That’s why Marie has a good life – because of the way Harry treats her, and we see exactly how he treats her, that he likes the way she is, and he tells her that he’s worried, but he doesn’t want to tell her full extent of his worry. So he changes the subject when she wants to find out more. All this contribute to Marie’s life being “good.” And it is all encapsulated in this one small passage. The contrast of that comes out in that previous passage. We know that Marie is probably a big woman. She is long-legged, big hands, big hips, and so on. We don’t know exactly how big she is until we get to see her through the eyes of Richard Gordon. Then it’s kind of a shock to see this passage coming through the eyes of a neutral or hostile observer, although not really hostile, it’s really neutral. But a very unkind neutral observer.
Chapter 10: Harry as a Mediated “Have” Through the Eyes of Richard Gordon [00:36:57]
“Riding his bicycle he passed a heavy-set, big, blue-eyed woman with bleached-blond hair showing under her old man’s styled hat, hurrying across the road, her eyes red from crying. Look at that big ox, he thought. What do you suppose a woman like that thinks about? What do you suppose she does in bed? What does her husband feel about her when she gets that size? In today’s chapter, he was going to use the big woman with the tear-reddened eyes he had just seen on the way home. Her husband, when he came home at night, hated her, hated the way she had coarsened and grown heavy, was repelled by her bleached hair, the two big breasts. He has seen in a flash of perception, the whole inner life of that type of woman.”
Hemingway is both dramatizing the process of labeling people, the making of social types, and showing considerable doubt whether that is a good practice, to say the least. It is really interesting that Richard Gordon is a writer, so I think that Hemingway is probably thinking about himself as well and whether it’s an entirely ethical practice even to populate his novel with social types. I mean right now he’s actually creating another social type of writer who doesn’t care about his subject and the only wants to use them to write novels to his own satisfaction. So this is– he’s both talking about Richard Gordon, and maybe expressing a little bit of worry about himself as well. But in any case, if we move away from Hemingway’s own investment and his psychology, possible psychology in creating someone like Richard Gordon, we can say that this is a direct affirmation of what a kind man Harry Morgan is. And it’s not just kindness that enables him to look past the bigness of Marie. It’s probably not just kindness, and understating the case. It’s something else. That it truly doesn’t bother him that she’s so big. When it’s probably what most of the women notice that about her.
It says something about that relationship, whatever we call it, it is one that turns a big woman into a beautiful woman. And to the extent that Harry is able to do that, he is kind of a magician of sorts. He has a kind of emotional magic that changes Marie into something else. In a process of that transformation, he also acquires an identity. He is the person who’s able to do this to Marie and do this for Marie. This is the ultimate measure of someone who has magic in his hands.
It is the lack of magic that makes Richard Gordon the washed-out writer that he is. Richard Gordon was probably once a very, very good writer. He has admirers, as we see, who are thrilled to meet him. But at the point we’re meeting him, the craft of writing seems to be on the wane. We begin to see this, what a bad writer he is in this supposedly neutral portrait of Marie. It’s that all he notices is the size of this woman. He doesn’t notice the most important fact about Marie, is that her eyes are red from crying. He is solely through curiosity, solely through imagination, that he misses the central fact. This is when Marie knows that Harry is dead, and that was why her eyes are tear-reddened.
Richard Gordon is such a poor writer that he cannot see the most obvious thing about Marie in his eagerness to turn her into a social type. In this exchange with his own wife, we see the fact that he’s a bad writer almost seems to spill out, and has a kind of an analogy in his relation with his wife, Helen, who is leaving him. And this is actually one of the great moments. I’m not quoting you the full extent of Helen’s speech, but go and look at page 185 when this long, long speech about love. It’s dripping with irony about what she feels about love coming from Richard Gordon. But that is the end of that conversation.
“All right, I’m through with you, and I’m through with love. Your kind of pick-nose love. You writer. You little mick slut. Don’t call me names. I know the word for you. All right. No, not all right. All wrong and wrong again. If you were just a good writer, I could stand for all the rest of it maybe. But I’ve seen you bitter, jealous, changing your politics to suit the fashion, sucking up to people’s faces and talking about them behind their backs. I’ve seen you until I’m sick of you.”
What kind of a person Richard Gordon is can only be registered in the full by someone who is by his side all the time. That is the most accurate picture of Richard Gordon, and that’s the kind of person he is. So it is a portrait that completely cleans out everything, that removes everything. His claim to fame, his claim to craftsmanship, his claim to writerly genius, his claim to being a great romantic lover, all of those things have been emptied out by Helen in this moment.
If we think about the symmetry between Harry channeled through Marie, and Richard Gordon channeled through Helen, it is very hard not to come to the conclusion that we need to have an alternative definition of what it means to be a “have,” and what it means to be a “have not.” It’s not so easy to add a label to what the criteria might be for someone to count as a “have.” The criteria probably much too complicated to be captured just by one word, and that’s really the point. The simplest way to put it is that in order to be a “have,” you have to make somebody else a “have.” Marie has a good life because of Harry, and Harry has something because Marie has a good life. This is the symmetrical construction of “have” in Hemingway’s novel.
I would say that, though, that Hemingway is quite often criticized for being a poor writer when it comes to women, and that is true. In most of his novels he has no imagination for what it might feel to be a woman. But this is actually an exception. This is an exceptionally powerful depiction of the human condition from the woman’s point of view.
Chapter 11: Hemingway and Joyce’s Female Soliloquies [00:44:48]
So in conclusion, I would like to bring up one celebrated passage from Modernist writing told from the standpoint of the woman’s point of view. Now, this is just a little anecdote that Hemingway actually has great admiration for James Joyce. He saw James Joyce in Paris, he saw Joyce eating with his family and they were all speaking Italian in Paris. Hemingway was very, very impressed. So it is not unfitting to compare him with Joyce in this most famous passage in Joyce, Molly’s soliloquy at the very end of Ulysses.
“And I thought well, as well him as another. And then I ask him with my eyes to ask again, yes. And then he asked me, would I yes to say yes, my mountain flower. And so as I put my arms around him, yes, and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts, all perfume. Yes. And his heart was going like mad. And yes, I said yes, I will. Yes.”
This is Molly Bloom thinking about a crucial moment from a long time ago. The marriage has really gone sour in many ways, affairs and so on. But thinking back to that moment when she agrees to marry Leopold Bloom, and Joyce obviously wants to end Ulysses on that note, that very early, perfect moment between two of them: a woman’s love for a man, and a man’s love for a woman.
Hemingway’s is not quite that. It’s the opposite of that. But I would argue it’s just as powerful, even though Marie’s soliloquy is not as well-known as Molly’s:
“How do you get through nights if you can’t sleep. I guess you find out, let you find out out how it feels to lose your husband. I guess you find out all right. I guess you find out everything in this goddamn life. I guess you do all right. I guess I’m probably finding out right now you just go dead inside and everything is easy. You just get dead like most people are most of the time. I guess that’s how it’s all right. I guess that’s just about what happens to you. Well, I’ve got a good thought. I’ve got a good thought if that’s what you have to do. I guess that’s what you have to do all right. I guess that’s it. I guess that’s what it comes to. All right. I’ve got a good start then. I’m way ahead of everybody now.”
Hemingway almost sounds like Gertrude Stein, another of his favorite people. And then it also sounds a little bit like Hemingway. Tremendous admiration for, Gertrude Stein. He really does sound like Gertrude Stein. This is a kind of senseless repetition. This is not eloquent at all. It is compulsive repetition on the part of Marie, and that is the compulsive repetition that comes to his own wife where she’s had a good life and that good life has been taken away from her. So both in fact that she’s had a good life, and in the fact that she’s going hysterical when that is taken away from her. In both instances, Marie attests to what kind of a man Harry Morgan is and he definitely is not a social “have not.”
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