Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Harry Morgan's Identity Crisis: Orientalism and Slumming during the Great Depression in Hemingway's to Have and Have Not

Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Harry Morgan's Identity Crisis: Orientalism and Slumming during the Great Depression in Hemingway's to Have and Have Not

Article excerpt

This essay places To Have and Have Not in relation to the flow of illegal Chinese immigrants through Cuba and Key West to U.S. Chinatowns during the Great Depression. It also explores the representations of Asians in the novel. The essay argues that Morgan's interaction with the "Anglomaniac" Chinese human trafficker, Sing, and his outrage against rich American tourists "slumming" in Key West reveal that his identity crisis is the result of his liminal position within the prevailing racial hierarchy.

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Ernest Hemingway maintained some connection with Chinese culture through much of his life. It began in his childhood when he showed considerable interest in things Chinese introduced by his uncle (L. Hemingway 25). (1) Later, while living in Cuba, he often dined at a Chinese restaurant in Havana (G. Hemingway 53) and even employed a Chinese as a house cook (Villarreal 54-62). In 1941, Hemingway traveled to China to cover the Sino-Japanese war, dispatching eloquent reports on the political situation (.BL 269-99). While in China, Hemingway undertook a "secret intelligence mission for the U.S. government" (Moreira 146). He also served as an "International friend, " a foreign visitor to China who "was expected to cooperate in spreading propaganda for Kuomintang" (Yanagisawa 133).

Despite the biographical details connecting Hemingway with things Chinese and the vigorous research on the politics of Hemingway's relationship with China, little attention has been given to representations of Asians in Hemingway's literary texts. In particular, To Have and Have Not (1937) is a novel whose portrayal of Chinese characters has been passed over by most literary scholars, even when other ethnic and racial elements are examined. For example, critics have regarded the racial others in the text variously as "a means of displaying [the white's] authority" (Morrison 80), as "a guiding manifestation across the swiftly transforming landscape of modern America" (Holcomb and Scruggs 20), as "punishers" of whites, (Fantina 143-44), and as literary "counterfeits" created by an author with insufficient "moral and racial awareness" (Fruscione 108); yet the focus of those studies has generally been limited to black characters, such as Wesley or to Afro-Cubans. (2)

This essay builds upon previous research on racial minorities in To Have and Have Not by exploring the portrayal of Asians in the novel, but the method departs from the ideological approach that is frequently used when addressing the topic of race in Hemingway's work. By situating To Have and Have Not within a somewhat broader geopolitical perspective than is directly mentioned in the text--the story of Chinese immigration to the United States during the Great Depression--this essay demonstrates how Harry Morgan's identity crisis is directly related to his liminal position within the prevailing racial hierarchy. (3)

During the Depression, Chinese people would often travel from China across the Pacific Ocean via Cuba and through Key West before moving into the Chinatowns of the mainland United States as illegal immigrants. Along the way they would meet illegal human traffickers like "Mr. Sing" and would encounter the virulent racism of Americans, who referred to them as "Chinks" and "yellow rat-eating aliens" (THHN 57). Although the United States was experiencing difficult economic times, its Chinatowns were thriving in part based on tourism that provided affluent white pleasure-seekers with exotic spots for so-called "slumming." These Chinatowns were spawned and developed through the dreams of America that the Chinese, including stowaways such as those in the cabin of Harry Morgans boat, brought with them. Ultimately, however, Morgan's interactions with Chinese characters, especially the "Anglomaniac" Chinese human trafficker, Sing, and his outrage against American tourists voyeuristically interested in Asian culture highlight his precarious place in the American racial hierarchy. …

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