Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Manhattan. New York City borough that is the financial and cultural center of the United States and the primary setting for the novel. Though various plot threads link the investigation to other places—such as Philadelphia and San Francisco—the entire novel unfolds within Manhattan, where Hammett himself lived for several years. His fictional sleuths, Nick and Nora Charles, move from city landmark to landmark and clearly know all stylish elements of the city. They meet with artists and professors in Greenwich Village and move from illegal speakeasies to Harlem, looking for fun. However, the novel offers little description of the city itself; instead Hammett merely drops minimal details into the narrative, contributing to the novel’s fast-moving pace, feeling of insider knowledge, and sense that all of Manhattan is merely a stage setting on which important people act with style.

Charles apartment

Charles apartment. Nick and Nora’s upper-class residence in Manhattan’s Normandie Building. The apartment has a bedroom, bathroom, living room, and enough space to have a bar. Its building contains a restaurant and a bellboy, whom the Charleses pay to take care of their pet dog, Asta. However, like the city, the apartment’s furnishings are never described. Despite this, the Charleses seem to live in an airy, stylish place. Hammett achieves this impression through witty exchanges among his characters that strongly suggest that the Charleses have an expensive and elegant lifestyle. He reinforces this impression by describing other places in details that create an implied contrast with their...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Dooley, Dennis. Dashiell Hammett. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1984. A basic survey of Hammett’s work and life specifically aimed at the general reader. Chapter 9, “Time’s Shadow,” provides an introduction to an interpretive reading of The Thin Man, which Dooley finds Hammett’s least successful novel.

Gregory, Sinda. Private Investigations: The Novels of Dashiell Hammett. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1985. A full-length study of Hammett’s five major novels. Chapter 6, “The Thin Man: The Detective Novel and the Comedy of Manners,” argues that the novel successfully merges the genres of hard-boiled fiction and comedy of manners and constitutes a serious and artistically unified work.

Layman, Richard. Shadow Man: The Life of Dashiell Hammett. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981. The most scholarly and reliable of the various biographies of Hammett, this is an objective, readable, and carefully researched and documented source. Provides a valuable historical and biographical context for each of the novels as well as a synopsis of the plot.

Marling, William. Dashiell Hammett. Boston: Twayne, 1983. A concise and well-informed introductory survey specifically aimed at the general reader. Provides a unified overview of all the novels. The brief chapter on The Thin Man gives a plot summary and some biographical context.

Metress, Christopher, ed. The Critical Response to Dashiell Hammett. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1994. Includes an introduction that surveys the history of Hammett criticism; a series of excerpts from reviews, commentaries, and critical discussions of each novel; and a section dealing more generally with Hammett’s work. The section on The Thin Man reprints a journal article on the novel by George J. Thompson.