The Postman Always Rings Twice was Cain’s first novel and came to stand as his finest work of fiction. It is both classical Cain, with its hard-boiled, first-person narrative of a wrenching love triangle, wish fulfillment, and retribution, and classical in its tragic theme and episodic structure. A very attractive young woman, Cora, is unhappily married to Nick Papadakis, the proprietor of a restaurant. A drifter, Frank Chambers, falls in love with Cora, hires on as Nick’s employee, and enjoys Cora’s requital of his love. The adulterers successfully conspire to murder Nick, thereby gaining his restaurant business and their own life together. Much of their planning materializes through fortuitous as well as engineered accidents.
It is also an accident that finally destroys both of them, Cora as accident victim and Frank as the victim of circumstances. Having been acquitted of contriving the accident that was supposed to have taken the life of Nick Papadakis, a charge of which he was actually guilty, Frank is now ironically convicted of contriving the accident that killed Cora, despite his innocence. The structure, like that of Greek tragedy and classical literature in general, is symmetrical: Cora and Frank are denied free union by societal and economic restrictions, Cora and Frank achieve free union through their crime, Cora and Frank are destroyed precisely in the context of their achievement of free union. The symmetry is that of...
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