RARA-AVIS: Marlowe's morality

From: Jay Gertzman ( jgertzma@earthlink.net)
Date: 31 Aug 2003

Mark Sullivan wrote:

>"Jay, I don't see how your examples (this [Keyes in Double Indemnity) 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. . . .

If Marlowe's motive is to protect Carmen and Vivian Sternwood from Eddie Mars, and to keep their father from finding out that Carman killed Gen Sternwood's friend, that is admirable. It is wrong in his mind to let the general die in despair, and to have Vivian in the clutches of Eddie, who will get his hands on the Sternwood fortune. It is a kind of justice to prevent this. But this motive causes him to acknowledge Eddie's untouchability by the law (that's just realistic), and to talk to him about not doing his worst as far as the Sternwoods are concerned. It seems to me that Marlowe has to give Eddie a practical reason (to make it worth his while) for going easy on the Sternwoods. The consequence of this motive seems to involve some kind of negotiation with Eddie Mars which will (in the long run) strengthen Eddie. I can't see this as a moral act. Now, Marlowe himself seems to realize that what he is doing is not moral. I mean, in this and other novels, he does not seem to have the opinion that he is is a moral person. I think he is so admirable b/c he is willing to sully himself so that his clients get what they deserve (if they level with him). He is very scrupulous, but I cannot bring myself to believe he is *or can be* moral in his dealings with crooks, racketeers, politicans and businessmen. I think he must be amoral in some of his actions (however admirable in motive), in the interest if a higher good or a higher justice than American institutions can provide.

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