Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 520

Along with Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler is credited with having originated the hard-boiled private-detective novel. Chandler located his novels in Los Angeles, not only because he lived there but also because it seemed to embody the worst traits of the emerging American society of the 1940’s and 1950’s; Hammett’s novels are, for the most part, located in San Francisco and its vicinity, while the authors’ most important disciple, Ross MacDonald, placed Lew Archer’s adventures in Chandler’s Southern California territory. Today, hard-boiled private-eye novels are written about Seattle, Boston, Indianapolis, Miami, and virtually every other real or fictional city in the country. These novels are a distinct departure from the traditional detective story, since their interest lies not in solving a puzzle but in the adventures of the protagonist and in what they reveal about the brutality and evil of the society in which they are placed. The Long Goodbye is typical in this respect. The clues which the reader would need to solve the mystery are not presented until Marlowe’s confrontation with Eileen Wade; while her actions are sometimes irrational or suspicious, there are only a few hints that might link her to Terry Lennox before the final revelations. Marlowe does not reveal even a suspicion that her motive for trying to employ him in the first place might be related to some connection between her and Lennox. This is the sixth of the seven Philip Marlowe novels, and, as noted above, it differs in some respects from the earlier books. The action of The Long Goodbye takes place almost entirely in the homes and haunts of the rich, with little of the contrast between those locales and the seamier side of Los Angeles life which characterized the five previous novels. Marlowe has even moved from his grimy urban apartments to a small but pleasant house on a hillside. At the same time, perhaps sensitive to critical observations that Marlowe’s celibacy was suspect, Chandler has given him a sex life. He escapes seduction by Eileen Wade only by accident, and at the end he spends a night with Linda Loring. Finally, Marlowe’s streak of sentimentality is more pronounced in this novel. With the exception of Hammett’s Sam Spade and the Continental Op, fictional private eyes are universally sentimental about small animals, children, and society’s victims, but Marlowe’s actions in The Long Goodbye are motivated entirely by an unabashed sentimentality.

In this longest of Chandler’s novels, much space is given to Marlowe’s explanations—to the reader and to the other characters—defending his actions as protector of the helpless. The action and much of the dialogue are presented in the clipped, spare style typical of this kind of novel, but Marlowe’s thoughts and some of his exchanges with other characters are more wordy. Yet if this novel is in some ways the talkiest of the Philip Marlowe novels, it is also the richest in its depth of characterization and the most detailed in its examination of the means used by the rich and powerful to protect themselves from reality.

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Critical Evaluation