Re: RARA-AVIS: Marxism and Hardboiled?

From: Brian Thornton (
Date: 03 Sep 2006

I think the only thing that separates Hammett's seminal work RED HARVEST from an overtly marxist work like Upton Sinclair's THE JUNGLE is that Hammett doesn't spend the last part of the book ranting about how international socialism is the only solution to the modern world's considerable socio-economic problems. In fact, he doesn't offer any solution at all to the problems raised by the ultimate laissez-faire situation that the Continental Op encounters in Poisonville. Even after the Op tames the town, the underlying problems that existed in the first place are still in place, and the little guy is still likely to take it on the chin.

Reading his work, I'm unsurprised that Hammett was a leftist in a time like the early 1900s. After all, he saw a lot of working class people getting screwed during his time as a Pinkerton (including some strike-breaking work) going up against the Wobblies out here in the west.

So Hammett (like Sinclair) effectively puts his finger on the problem when he lays out the situation in the western mining town of Poisonville (based in part on Butte, Montana). And his social criticism is both clear-eyed and accurate. He just doesn't try to lecture the reader on how to fix the problem. But looking at modern society the way he did, is it surprising that he supported greater government oversight of the economy before, during and after the Great Depression, which came on in large part because of government indifference in America and abroad?

(I don't want to get into a political discussion on the merits of what did and did not cause the Great Depression. I know that there are conservatives on this list who might disagree with me. I'm merely offering insight into Hammett's mind-set)

Great topic!

All the Best-

Brian Thornton

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 03 Sep 2006 EDT