The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Philip Marlowe is at the center of the action, as he is in all seven of Chandler’s detective novels. He conforms to Chandler’s dictum, in the essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” that a fictional private eye should be a kind of knight amid the grim decay of the modern city, a conscientious man who tries to right the wrongs of society. In The Long Goodbye, Marlowe and the world through which he moves are less tough and gritty than in the earlier Chandler novels. Marlowe makes several sentimental gestures when he thinks that Terry Lennox is dead; he pursues his investigations only because of his interest in Lennox; he never has a paying client; and he moves with ease in a more affluent social world than that of the earlier novels.
Among the other characters, Terry Lennox and Eileen Wade are the most interesting. Lennox has irresistible charm, and once in his life has performed an instinctive, heroic action, earning the gratitude of two powerful gangsters whose lives he saved. He is, however, without any moral sense, and it is this lack that leads to his decay, his connivance in the phony suicide, and Marlowe’s eventual rejection of him. Eileen Wade is a woman of “paralyzing” beauty who cannot accept the loss of her youthful romantic marriage. Until confronted with Marlowe’s evidence, she believes that her murders are justified and that her beauty and power over men will enable her to escape the consequences of her actions.
The other characters are vividly delineated. Linda Loring’s physician husband is a jealous man, a snob overconfidently sure of his social and professional position. Harlan Potter is suitably austere and tough. Marlowe’s policeman friend, Bernie Ohls, engages in angry exchanges with Marlowe, disagrees with him about the nature of crime, and cynically uses him to trap one of Lennox’s gangster friends. The minor policemen, gangsters, and petty crooks are stock types, but each has identifying characteristics.
Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Philip Marlowe, a Los Angeles private detective who befriends Terry Lennox, a gentle drunk with good manners. When Lennox comes to Marlowe for help, the detective drives him across the border into Mexico, unaware that earlier that night, Lennox’s rich and promiscuous wife, Sylvia, had been brutally murdered. Later, Marlowe is drawn into the rich social world dominated by Sylvia’s father, Harlan Potter, when Eileen Wade asks him to help her writer husband, Roger Wade. As Marlowe tries to understand and help Roger Wade, an alcoholic, he finds himself trying to find the murderer of Sylvia Lennox. With the help of detective Bernie Ohls, Marlowe discovers the truth.
Terry Lennox, a war hero and a drunkard. He marries Sylvia Lennox for the second time, knowing what kind of woman she is. After Marlowe has taken him across the border, he flies to a remote Mexican village, from which he writes Marlowe a suicide note. Harlan Potter’s lawyer confirms his death, and everyone but Marlowe believes he killed his wife.
Roger Wade, a writer of popular historical romances who drinks too much. Marlowe believes that Wade is drinking to forget some terrible experience, but before Wade reveals what it is, he apparently commits suicide. Marlowe believes that his suicide, like Terry Lennox’s, was phony.
Eileen Wade, an...
(The entire section is 511 words.)