Hammett, (Samuel) Dashiell (Vol. 10)
Hammett, (Samuel) Dashiell 1894–1961
An American novelist, short story writer, and author of scripts for film and radio, Hammett is known for his development of the realistic crime novel. A former detective himself, he is perhaps most famous as the creator of Sam Spade. His use of dialogue and terse literary style are often compared to Hemingway's. (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 5.)
[The complex, ambiguous, and problematic] permeate Hammett's work and act as formative elements in its structure, including its deep structure. Hammett's work went through considerable and interesting development in the course of his career of twelve years as a writer. He also wrote in a considerable variety of forms and worked out a variety of narrative devices and strategies. At the same time, his work considered as a whole reveals a remarkable kind of coherence. In order to further the understanding of that coherence, we can propose for the purposes of the present analysis to construct a kind of "ideal type" of a Hammett or Op story. Which is not to say or to imply in the least that he wrote according to a formula, but that an authentic imaginative vision lay beneath and informed the structure of his work.
Such an ideal-typical description runs as follows. The Op is called in or sent out on a case. Something has been stolen, someone is missing, some dire circumstance is impending, someone has been murdered—it doesn't matter. The Op interviews the person or persons most immediately accessible. They may be innocent or guilty—it doesn't matter; it is an indifferent circumstance. Guilty or innocent, they provide the Op with an account of what they know, of what they assert really happened. The Op begins to investigate; he compares these accounts with others that he gathers; he snoops about; he does research; he shadows people,...
(The entire section is 1568 words.)
H. H. Morris
Along with Raymond Chandler … Hammett was one of the giants who established an American voice and style that stood in opposition to the British-dominated country-house school. His criminals were habitual wrongdoers, not insane spinsters, vicars, or retired colonels. His detectives were hardworking professionals, not gentlemen amateurs solving murders for lack of a more edifying hobby. He wrote about killings committed with the weapons men routinely use for murder, not exotic poisons or knives made of ice. Most importantly, Hammett set his crimes in a believable and recognizable environment.
This use of environment makes Hammett worthy of discussion as a serious American novelist and short story writer. His achievements in crime fiction have tended to obscure his genuine literary talents…. (p. 196)
Hammett's vision of America was that of a man staring at a vast wasteland. He shared with Sinclair Lewis the belief that the nation's traditional leaders lacked integrity, that the balance sheet had replaced ethical codes of conduct. Like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hammett saw the children of the rich as spoiled seekers after illicit thrills. With Faulkner, he wrote of society's dregs, the misfits condemned to live out a nightmare existence with no hope of escape. Hammett was one more writer of the 1920's and 1930's who took the naturalism of Dreiser and Norris as a received fiction technique and applied it to life around...
(The entire section is 1007 words.)