Dashiell Hammett Long Fiction Analysis
Unlike most of their predecessors in the genre, Dashiell Hammett’s detectives live and work, as did Hammett himself, in a world populated with actual criminals who violate the law for tangible personal gain. Significantly, Hammett did all of his creative writing during the years of Prohibition, when lawlessness was rampant and organized crime was rapidly gaining a foothold in the American social structure. Prohibition indeed functions prominently in all of Hammett’s published work as background, as atmosphere, and frequently as subject. In Red Harvest, Hammett’s first novel, a loose confederacy of bootleggers, thieves, and hired killers has set up what appears to be a substitute government, replacing law and order with values of their own; the resulting Hobbesian chaos clearly reflects, however indirectly, Hammett’s own developing political consciousness. There is little place in such a world for genteel detectives cast in the mold of Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey; accordingly, Hammett presents in the Continental Op and his successors the kind of detective who can deal routinely and effectively with hardened criminals. As Raymond Chandler observed, “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people who commit it for reasons.”
Within such an evil environment, the sleuth often becomes as devious and mendacious as those whom he is pursuing, remaining faithful nevertheless to a highly personal code of honor and justice. Sam Spade,...
(The entire section is 3761 words.)
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