RE: RARA-AVIS: nightmare alley

From: William Hagen (
Date: 12 Jul 2002

Interesting exchange on political comments in noir novels.

One thing to notice about the titles mentioned (by Anderson,Gresham,Cain)is that they all--to my memory--date from or are set in the Thirties, or shortly thereafter. The noir "vision" (yeah,a contradiction in terms) was surely stimulated by the apparent failure of capitalism and the larger political system during that period. Disillusionment is reflected in personal stories, and sometimes in social commentary.

I too wouldn't defend polemic passages if they don't arise from the reality and characters portrayed. But as in Grapes of Wrath or other "mainstream" titles, anger or crime arises in part from social conditions. If I remember rightly, Anderson's title, Thieves Like Us, was playing off the sense that poor folks who steal are subjected to a different standard of enforcement and justice than the rich respectables. [Isn't there a scene with a lawyer that "argues" this?]

Guess my thesis is that the Depression widened the appeal of crime/noir fiction, so it seems natural that the social and political solutions of that era should thread their way in the fiction as well.

Bill Hagen

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