Study Guide

Double Indemnity

by James M. Cain

Double Indemnity Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Double Indemnity was written by Cain in approximately two months; it appeared initially in Liberty magazine as an eight-part serial. It was, as Cain himself admitted, practically a rewriting of The Postman Always Rings Twice. In both novels, a man, obsessed with desire for a married woman and tempted by the prospect of easy money, contrives under the woman’s encouragement a scheme to murder the husband and profit from the murder. In each novel the effect of the successful criminal enterprise is the self-destruction of the principals in tandem with their ultimate realization of their true love for each other.

Although neither title was Cain’s inceptive selection—the original title of The Postman Always Rings Twice was Bar-B-Que, and Double Indemnity was suggested to Cain by James Geller—both include an ironic play on types of dualism. Fatal accidents happen twice, one staged and one actual, in the first novel. In the later novel, there are two double compensations for an accidental death that is actually a murder: The first is the double-indemnity insurance award, and the second is the self-execution decided upon by the two murderers who collected the insurance.

Despite the similarities, the novels remain distinct; each has its special characteristics, and each is a masterwork. The murderers in Double Indemnity are Phyllis Nirdlinger, a very attractive, unhappily married...

(The entire section is 538 words.)