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“How do you fish with one arm?”
am 5. Februar 2018
This is Hemingway’s 3rd novel (1937) and a powerful comment on the effects of the 1930s Depression on the “have nots” of Key West, Florida. The “haves” are the rich tourists who spend their money and pay little attention to the plight of the island’s poor. It is the first time that Hemingway showed an interest in a possible solution of social problems through collective action.
Harry Morgan, is a tough “conch,” as natives of Key West, call themselves, and has devoted his life to the single-minded effort to keep himself and his family on the upper fringes of the “have nots” by chartering his fishing boat or dishonestly by running illegal goods between Key West and Havana, Cuba. Neither of these occupations is successful, sometimes because of Harry’s poor judgment but mostly for reasons beyond his control.
Mr. Johnson, a wealthy tourist, hires Harry for a fishing trip, but it is a disastrous affair with the incompetent and selfishly exploitative Johnson, not only losing expensive fishing gear, but also leaving town without paying the charter fees. Now Harry makes arrangements with a Chinese to carry illegal aliens from Havana to Florida, but again the deal goes kablooey. Harry takes the money, murders the leader and abandons the others. In the 2nd part Harry and his mate are smuggling illegal liquor but the Coast Guard captures them in a gun battle. Harry loses an arm and has his boat confiscated. In a last desperate attempt to obtain money, he aids the escape of four bank robbers, although realizing that unless he kills them, they will kill him.
In the end, Harry tries to come to terms with a philosophy that has taken all this life to learn. He says that “a man alone ain’t got no . . . chance.” There’s some irony in his socialism vs. individualism idea, because Harry spends a great deal of time alone, although it is clear that he and his wife Marie have a good marriage. The novel’s subplot is devoted to contrast between the happy “have nots” and the broken and adulterous relationships of some “haves.”
The novel was adapted for four films. Howard Hawks version (1945) is notable for first pairing of Bogart and Bacall and consistent entertainment value. A slightly humdrum attempt was made by Michael Curtiz in 1950 (The Breaking Point), starring John Garfield and Patricia Neal. The third film version, titled “The Gun Runners (1958), was directed by Don Siegel and stars Audie Murphy and Patricia Owens. In 1987the Iranian director Nasser Taghvai adopted the novel into a nationalized version called Captain Khorshid which took the events from Cuba to the Persian Gulf.