Re: RARA-AVIS: Marlowe's morality

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 02 Sep 2003

At 10:35 PM 8/31/2003 -0400, Jay wrote:
>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.

I can't recall who originally said that morality doesn't exist in a vacuum, but the comment seems an appropriate response to your contention that Marlowe is somehow immoral for engaging Mars in an attempt to co-opt him.

All the Best,


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