Raymond Chandler Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What is chastity? Is Philip Marlowe chaste?

Does Raymond Chandler oversimplify his female characters? In general do they strike you as resembling women in the real world?

How extensive is Chandler’s influence on contemporary detective fiction?

Is the character of Philip Marlowe “hard-boiled” primarily by nature or as a consequence of his experiences as a detective?

Compare one of Chandler’s novels with the film based on it. How faithful to the original story is the motion picture?

How successful was Chandler’s aim to achieve the level of serious literature in his novels?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Raymond Chandler is best known for his hard-boiled detective novels featuring Philip Marlowe. Chandler often used material from his short stories to create the novels, and Philip Marlowe’s character grew out of the various detectives in the short tales. This archetypal hero has been further popularized through many major motion pictures. Chandler wrote screenplays for six works by others. His works have been selected for Book-of-the-Month Club members, and his stories and novels have been collected in a number of editions. He also wrote criticism on the art of detective fiction and in his early years conventional poems and essays.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Raymond Chandler may undoubtedly be considered second only to Dashiell Hammett as the writer who raised the reputation of the hard-boiled detective novel from its humble origins in popular culture to the level of serious literature. The seven novels he wrote are classics of the genre; the ten films made from his novels are equally well known. Together, the novels and films have made Chandler’s major literary creation, Philip Marlowe, one of America’s most popular icons. Cynical, tough, yet curiously sentimental and moral, this detective figure seems particularly appealing as a lone fighter against heavy odds in a violent world.

Chandler’s screenplay The Blue Dahlia (1946) won the Edgar Allan Poe Award from Mystery Writers of America and an Academy Award nomination in 1946. One of his seven novels, The Long Goodbye (1953), won another Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1954.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Raymond Chandler began his literary career with a false start in England in his early twenties, publishing an assortment of journalistic sketches, essays, poems, and a single story; most of these pieces are collected in Chandler Before Marlowe: Raymond Chandler’s Early Prose and Poetry (1973), edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli. His real career as a writer was launched more than twenty years later, when he began publishing short stories in crime magazines. Chandler published twenty-three stories during his lifetime, most of which appeared in pulp magazines such as Black Mask and Dime Detective Magazine. Although the stories rarely approach the literary merit of his novels, they are representative of a popular type of American writing. They also show a versatility within the mystery formula that Chandler would later develop in his novels.

Chandler forbade the reissue during his lifetime of eight of his stories, but three of these were published, apparently without the author’s consent. Chandler insisted that these stories be withheld because of a curious professional scruple. The materials had been incorporated in subsequent novels—in Chandler’s word, “cannibalized”—and he felt that their republication would be unfair to readers of the novels. Some of the best of Chandler’s stories are in this group and have, since his death, been published in the collection Killer in the Rain (1964).

Like William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chandler was invited to Hollywood to write film scripts. He collaborated on several important screenplays and, with Billy Wilder, was nominated for an Academy Award for the 1944 screen adaptation of James M. Cain’s novel Double Indemnity (1936). His original screenplay The Blue Dahlia also received an Oscar nomination, despite the fact that Chandler remained dissatisfied with that 1946 film. In 1948 he wrote, under contract with Universal Pictures, an original screenplay, Playback, that was not filmed; Chandler rewrote this work, with new characters, as a novel during his final years.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

More than any of his contemporaries, Raymond Chandler attempted to use the devices of mystery fiction for serious literary purposes. The peculiarly American school of detective fiction came of age during the years of the Great Depression in the 1930’s. The most influential outlet for this fiction was Black Mask, a pulp magazine founded by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan and later edited by Captain Joseph T. Shaw. The American detective character that had its origins in Black Mask and similar pulp magazines is often called the “hard-boiled detective”—this character differs sharply from that of the traditional British sleuth. Chandler’s heroes are not charming eccentrics in the tradition of Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey, nor are they masters of unbelievable powers of deduction, such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. When Chandler’s Philip Marlowe tells his client (in The Big Sleep) that he is not Holmes or Philo Vance and humorously introduces himself as Philo Vance in The Lady in the Lake, Chandler is calling attention to the distance he intends to create between his character and the traditional heroes of detective literature. The American detective of fiction as created by Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and a host of lesser contemporaries is a loner, a man of ordinary intellect but of unusual perseverance and willingness to confront whatever adversary he encounters, whether that adversary be the criminal or the legal establishment. Kenneth Millar, who under the pen name Ross Macdonald would become the most worthy of Chandler’s successors, said that from the Black Mask revolution came “a new kind of detective hero, the classless, restless men of American democracy, who spoke the language of the street.”...

(The entire section is 732 words.)


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

On the basis of only seven novels, two dozen short stories, and a few articles and screenplays, Raymond Chandler firmly established himself in the pantheon of detective-fiction writers. Though he was by no means the first to write in a hard-boiled style, Chandler significantly extended the range and possibilities for the hard-boiled detective novel. Along with Dashiell Hammett, Chandler created some of the finest works in the genre, novels that, many have argued, stand among the most prominent—detective or otherwise—in the twentieth century. Chandler’s achievement is largely a result of three features: a unique, compelling protagonist, a rich, individual style, and a keen concern for various social issues. He established the measure by which other hard-boiled fiction would be judged, and numerous other detective novelists, including Mickey Spillane, Ross Macdonald, and Robert B. Parker, have acknowledged a strong indebtedness to Chandler’s work.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Babener, Liahna K. “Raymond Chandler’s City of Lies.” In Los Angeles in Fiction, edited by David Fine. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984. The chapter on Chandler is a study of the image patterns in his novels. The volume as a whole is an interesting discussion of the importance of a sense of place, especially one as mythologically rich as Los Angeles. Includes notes.

Bruccoli, Matthew J., and Richard Layman, eds. Hardboiled Mystery Writers: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross Macdonald. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2002. Compilation presents interviews, articles, letters, and previously published studies...

(The entire section is 1135 words.)