Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 340
The Thin Man is a novel by American writer Dashiell Hammett which was published in 1934. The novel is considered one of the most influential examples of the hardboiled genre, which is a subgenre of the greater mystery genre and tends to center on police or private detectives and their exploits.
The first noticeable theme in the novel is the consumption of alcohol and how alcohol, as a product, has influenced American society. This is exemplified by the fact that the story is set during the end of the Prohibition era. The Prohibition is a common setting for many hardboiled stories during the 1930s because of its relevance, but also due to waves of crime that the Prohibition laws initiated. It was during this time period that the American public became obsessed with mass media portrayals of organized crime figures (i.e., Al Capone), as well as true crime stories about outlaws such as Machine Gun Kelly, and Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Constant alcohol consumption is also depicted as a casual hobby, which was common at the time period, especially since many citizens were deprived of alcohol sales during the Prohibition era. The main character and his wealthy wife and sidekick are portrayed as free-spirited, easygoing people who like to drink alcohol. The majority of the husband and wife's interactions revolve around playful banter and the consumption of alcohol.
The other major theme of the story is the different levels of American society at the time period. For instance, the crime-solving couple meet various eccentric characters during their investigation, including a family whose members have a different lifestyle from theirs. They also meet corrupt policemen and petty criminals. In a sense, the novel offers a giant collage of the American citizenry, especially those who are members of metropolitan populations. The fact that the main characters are affluent highlights the various economic and social levels of America. However, this social structure is neutralized when a murder is involved, because anyone can be a criminal or a hero, regardless of social status.