recently I bought a book called "Winner take nothing" by E. Hemingway. As soon as I started reading I came across rather weird sentence, as follows

Hadn't you ought to put your hat on even under the canvas at noon?

I understand every word separately but as a whole I cannot comprehend it. Is there any manner or habit which is foreign to me?

PS: English is not my native langage.

EDIT 1 :

From what I know it is Safari, they celebrate killing the lion and his wife speaks to him like that.

More text from this SITE

Margaret, his wife, looked away from him and back to Wilson.

'Let's not talk about the lion,' she said.

Wilson looked over at her without smiling and now she smiled at him.

'It's been a very strange day,' she said. 'Hadn't you ought to put your hat on even under the canvas at noon? You told me that, you know.'

'Might put it on,' said Wilson.

'You know you have a very red face, Mr. Wilson,' she told him and smiled again.

  • 1
    A little more context would be helpful, but it appears to refer to someone putting their sun hat on even while under while under a sunshade.
    – Hot Licks
    May 23, 2018 at 17:34
  • OK, from your comment I got the idea. Absence of comma before "even" got me into trouble understanding the sentence as we would use in polish. it is simple I just made it hard :) thanks! May 23, 2018 at 17:41
  • (And I guess if I'd put my sun hat on sooner I might not have doubled up "while under".)
    – Hot Licks
    May 23, 2018 at 17:48
  • It is plain to me that Margaret, Wilson's wife, was disturbed by the earlier killing of the lion, and everyone else is pretending that nothing has happened. She refers to her husband as "Mr Wilson" and makes a facetious comment about not wearing his hat. May 23, 2018 at 18:15
  • It's Hemmingway though so we all anticipate some profound meaning: his face was red. she simply said put your hat on.
    – lbf
    May 23, 2018 at 19:08

3 Answers 3


The person being talked to is in a tent around noontime, which means that it's pretty unlikely he's going to be in the sun (since the sun will be almost directly overhead and blocked by the tent). Acknowledging that he is unlikely to be in the sun, the speaker is asking him despite that shouldn't he put on a hat?

Most of the sentence is pretty straightforward. "Hadn't you ought to" roughly equates to "Shouldn't you" and "under the canvas" means "in a tent". We know it's a tent and not something else made of canvas because the Oxford English Dictionary has the following definition:

under canvas: in a tent or tents.

(This isn't an expression I'm familiar with, despite being a native speaker, so I think it must be an older expression that's fallen out of fashion.)

In addition to this, from context earlier in the story, we are told they are in tents:

It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.

  • This answer is correct. As far as what it means, I believe she's cautioning him about sunburn.
    – Dan
    May 23, 2018 at 18:30

With a single exception, the sentence has its straightforward meaning.

"Hadn't you ought to" means "shouldn't you", and it's a pretty common vernacular variation.

"Under the canvas" might refer to a tent, but it might also refer to a canvas shade. While "canvas" can refer to the kind of cloth, it can refer to items made from that cloth. While "under canvas" mean "in a tent or tents", the expression doesn't normally include the definite article.

Specifically what the question is referring to is that under very bright sunlight, such as in Africa at midday, canvas does not provide complete protection from the sun and one would be well advised to have additional protection from the sun. The observation about Wilson having a red face would back this up, although it may carry other implications too.

(The subtext in which Mrs Wilson changes the subject from the important to the banal is more literary than linguistic and not really to be covered here.)


I see that an answer has been accepted already, but I've got a different perspective on the meaning of Margaret's comment.

We've accepted that they are already protected from the sun, so it would seem that a hat is not necessary. Since Margaret suggests putting one on despite this fact, my thought is that she's suggesting being prepared for any risk even when you believe you're safe. Think of it like the concept of "Expect nothing but be ready for everything."

It'd be helpful to know the circumstances where Wilson first made that comment to her "You told me that, you know." We could better infer what she meant if we had that information.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.