To Have and Have Not, 1937

To Have and Have Not started as a short story, “One Trip Across” published in the Cosmopolitan in 1934 when it introduced to the world the character Harry Morgan. A subsequent story was written in 1936 and published in Esquire, and this is the point at which Hemingway decided to pen a full novel on Harry Morgan. The writing of the new novel unfortunately coincided with the Spanish Civil War which had an impact on it.

One Hemingway biographer describes the book as being heavily influenced by the Marxist ideology that Hemingway was exposed to as he supported the Republican side of the War as he wrote the novel.

About Hemingway

Ernest Miller Hemingway is a famous American journalist and author. His understated and economical style had a powerful impact on 20th-century fiction. His public image and adventurous life greatly influenced later generations. Most of the work produced by Hemingway was from the mid-1920s to the mid-1950s. In 1954, he won the Literature Nobel Prize.

He has in all published two non-fiction works, seven novels, and 6 short story collections. Three non-fiction works, 3 novels, and 4 short stories collections were published posthumously. Many of his works are considered as American literature classics.

Book Plot Summary

The book To Have and Have Not revolves around Harry Morgan, a broke fishing-boat captain who is ready to ferry contraband between Florida and Cuba in order to cater and feed his family. Harry is a big hard man, happily married, the father of two girls and all he has on this earth is his fast motor boat.

Harry, the main book character is literally trying to remain afloat during the 1930s depression-era. His only source of income is the boat—he doesn’t care whether it undertakes legal fishing or illegal rum or people smuggling, provided that it pays. At times it is very violent business that literally keeps Harry always on disaster’s edge.

Normally Harry takes out fishing parties, although when he thinks it is possible to get away with it, and the offered money seems worth the risk, he is ready to try other things too.

Morgan and Chinese Businessman Sing

Among Harry’s boat ventures is a fishing expedition with a wealthy Chinese businessman. The man doesn’t follow instructions and ends up losing a huge marlin fish, as well as Harry’s tackle and line. The Chinese businessman lays the blame on Harry for his failure and runs off without paying for the charter fees amounting to some $500, plus the damage worth $300 caused to Harry’s fishing equipment.

The Cuban Episode

In efforts to raise funds to return to where he lives in Key West, Harry consents to ferry some illegal Chinese workers to the USA via Florida. Once he receives the payment, he goes on to murder the contractor and then sets the illegal workers ashore, not in Florida, but inside Cuba. In another incident Harry gets wounded when he is involved in a run-in with government officials from Cuba while he’s ferrying a boatload of illegal Cuban rum. The result is that he ends up losing an arm. Even worse, his boat is confiscated by American Customs Service.

As the depression bites, Harry’s friends are engaged in low-paying menial work or depression-relief projects. After losing his boat and with a wife and two daughters looking up to him for support, Harry feels that he cannot take up that type of work. In desperation, he finally consents to stealing his boat back and ferry revolutionaries now residing in the United States into Cuba.

He easily manages to steal his boat from the impound Navy Yard, but loses it once again when another person sees where he hid it. It is at this point when he decides to charter his friend’s boat and heads home in what proves to be his last time. His wife Marie helps him in fetching and loading his Thompson submachine gun, and weeps as they part. The Cubans decide to rob a bank, race aboard the boat and end up killing his friend Tracy in cold blood, forcing Morgan to run seaward. Morgan is able to open fire on the Cuban robbers, but only manages to wound one who then goes ahead shoot to him in the gut.

The Final Fate of Morgan

Shot through the stomach and on his deathbed, Harry attempts to express what he has been taught by life. With the Coast Guard cutter captain and mate leaning over him, they can hear him as he struggles to get what he has out: the lesson he has learnt is that a single man has no chance. As he dies, it becomes clear it had to take Harry all his life to learn that one hard lesson.

Film Adaptions of the Book

To Have and Have Not book was adapted in 1944 into film that starred Humphrey Bogart in the lead and Lauren Bacall. However, the movie director Howard Hawks changed the setting of the story and made significant plot alterations, such as eliminating the Marxist overtones exhibited by Hemingway. He has turned the story into more of a romantic thriller.

The book by Ernest Miller Hemingway has subsequently been used as the background for several films, which use the author’s characters although with changes.


To Have and Have Not is Harry Morgan’s dramatic story, a man forced into running contraband and illegals between Key West in Florida and Cuba as a means of keeping his family afloat financially during tough times. His misadventures take him deep into the world of the dissipated and wealthy yachtsmen thronging the region, involving him in a strange events and unlikely love affair.

There is nothing, according to some book reviewers in Mr. Hemingway’s story that displays that Harry ever tried to earn a living through lawful and honest means. It would appear that all Harry checked from a potential job was if it was possible get away with it, and make profit for himself. Society, as can be seen in the story of Harry Morgan owed him nothing really. In the end, he got exactly what was heading towards him: tragedy.