Re: RARA-AVIS: amorality in Chandler, Cain

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 31 Aug 2003

"My best example of amorality in crime fiction is the brilliant insurance investigator in _Double Indemnity_, Keyes. He saves his company by deceiving Walter about what will happen if he escapes via boat at the end of the novel. He betrays Walter in every way: trapping him on board with death-bound Phyllis and then informing the ship's captain and police who Phyllis and Walter really are. Nothing personal; he likes Walter. But he likes his company, his reputation, and Lola better. They are all better off without Walter."

Which means that in his mind, Keyes is serving a higher justice.

Jay, I don't see how your examples (this or Marlowe) are amoral. They may sometimes pursue "ends justify the means" strategies, but those ends are very moral, at least in their intentions. I can see your argument that their actions may be amoral or even immoral, but I would define the concept by motive.

To me, if a character believes in right and wrong, he cannot be amoral, only moral or immoral, both of which accept the validity of the same concept, whether or not they choose to do right -- to give an extreme example, Satanists (at least pop culture ones, don't know any real ones, well, none that I know of) define themselves in oppostion to good to such a degree that they say prayers backwards. Amorality means someone does not even accept or even acknowledge right and wrong, but lives by his or her own rules.

Marlowe's motives are pure. Parker's is profit. Marlowe believes in right and wrong -- it may not always line up with legality and it may sometimes require dealing with, even compromising with wrong people to bring it about, but he tries very hard to make things right, sometimes to his own detriment. Parker only looks out for himself-- he deals in purely situational ethics, pursuing that which will most efficiently achieve his goals; he recognizes legality only to the degree that is required to avoid its enforcers, since being caught would hinder his goals.


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