Re: RARA-AVIS: Chandler and THH style differences ?

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 30 Jul 2002

Hi miker,

You are more right than you know. _The Sun Also Rises_ is also first person, and not third person non- omniscient. Marlowe and Jake Barnes do in fact have a lot in common. Barnes' physical war wound (which renders him impotent) results in a psychic scarring with which he seems barely to cope. Marlowe's 'wounding and scarring are more difficult to pin down. No direct refence is made to the events which soured Marlowe on society, but it seems almost as if he is suffering from a case of burn-out after having operated in law enforcement during the years before he went into business for himself.

In many ways the results of their wounds/scars are vastly similar: neither can ever really have a woman
(Barnes for reasons obvious and those less so, and Marlowe because of his alienation complex); and they are both deliberate outsiders in the guise of an insider; semi-detatched observers along the lines of Fitzgerald's Nick Carraway (Hemingway said once of _The Great Gatsby_ that he thought it the finest novel written by an American in the 20th century, and he was probably right at the time. I know that only a handful of books over the course of the century rivaled it, including _The Old Man And The Sea_. But then I'm biased, I vastly prefer Hemingway's short stories to all of his novels save _The Old Man And The Sea_ and _For Whom The Bell Tolls_, which is a largely sentimental choice).

There seems to be two real differences between Barnes and Marlowe, though. Barnes in the end succumbs to the sort of world-weary fatalism ("ennui" if you prefer) which afflicted so many disillusioned by the horrors of the Great War. Marlowe, for all of his posturing, has not entirely given up the fight. Where Barnes gives up everything that matters to him by the end of the book, and compromises himself even further than his wound has compromised him, Marlowe seems intent on winning the small, personal battles wherein he can truly make some difference.

This initial distinction between these two characters leads to the second one: Barnes just isn't sympathetic, when taken all in all (a common complaint about the characters in Hemingways' novels, especially the women who populate them), and he isn't sympathetic because Americans have a problem with admiring "quitters". It is cultural in many ways, but there you have it. Such is hardly the case with Marlowe, the tarnished knight, who is far more of an actor in the dramas he records than Barnes is.

So there you have it, my 2 cents. Please, no rotten fruit, just throw money!


> MrT said:
> i do recognize that _the big sleep_ is first person and
> that hemingway's _sun also rises_ is what someone called
> "objective" third person, meaning that the thoughts of the
> characters is not in the narrative. but marlowe and jake
> strike me as being very similar characters. they both
> project a stoic front, while inwardly being frustrated,
> with feelings of alienation from most of the world. al-
> right, i'm going on about character similarities when you
> were talking about style differences.
> i'm at a disadvantage because most of my books are packed
> away right now while we are doing some remodelling, so i
> can't drag out copies of both books and compare, but i
> seem to remember thinking that even hemingway's and chand-
> ler's styles were similar. clean, precise prose and sharp,
> quick dialogue.
> to reiterate, i would appreciate hearing anything you can
> tell me about the differences between the THH and chandler
> style.

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