’s Detective Influences Essay, Research Paper
Dashiell Hammett?s Detective Influence
In writing ?The Maltese Falcon?, Dashiell Hammett took advantage of his previous occupation as a Pinkerton detective in order to make his novel the masterpiece that it is now known to be. Although the most famous, this was not his only fine work to be placed in a genre of literature known as ?hard-boiled detective fiction?. Each novel, such as Red Harvest (1929), The Glass Key (1931) and The Thin Man (1934) are well recognized as masterpieces of detective fiction. All of these successes can be attributed to his work as a Pinkerton detective.
Born in 1894, Samuel Dashiell Hammett was first raised in Baltimore, Maryland and then moved to Philadelphia. His family clung to the upper fringe of the working class, facing a struggle to make ends meet. During this time in the United States, the Hammetts were a family who were constantly facing job competition by ambitious immigrants looking to better their lives. By the age of fourteen, Dashiell Hammett had dropped out of high school in order to work to help support his family. For five years Hammett worked a series of jobs until the age of twenty-one when the Pinkerton National Detective Agency employed him.
Hammet?s first position with the Pinkerton operatives was as a clerk. Members around the office felt that he could make a good operative as well. They believed Hammett possessed many of the important attributes of a good detective such as discretion, intelligence, patience and the ability to uphold rules. As Diane Johnson explained in Hammett?s biography ?He was brave and intelligent, and could do things men much older couldn?t do (Johnson 17).?
At first, this seemed to be the perfect occupation for Hammett. The pay suited him well, and he became quite skilled in his trade. However, his life as a Pinkerton detective was not as ?glamorous? as it had first appeared to him. On one occasion while guarding a powder magazine, Hammett was forced to use a gun. As Johnson explains, ?He hadn?t wanted or meant to, but it was his responsibility, and his partner was off somewhere else.? The perpetrator had scaled a large metal fence, and upon Hammett?s shouts, refused to obey orders. When witnessing the blood that had been shed, and the injury that he had inflicted on another human being, Hammett was taken with terror and from that day forward refused to carry a gun. This fear of harming fragile human life also extended to cars, which Hammett refused to drive for fear that he might harm someone unintentionally.
Two other incidents during his time as a Pinkerton detective helped influence his decision to leave the operatives. The first was his assignments as a strikebreaker. On a particular assignment in Butte, Montana a union leader by the name of Frank Little was maliciously murdered. Although never proven, the Pinkerton detectives were suspected to be involved in the murder. One of the final events that persuaded him to leave the Pinkertons took place in San Francisco in 1921. A woman by the name of Miss Virginia Rappe was heard screaming in her hotel room, something had burst inside of her. Roscoe ?Fatty? Arbuckle was blamed for her death, the authorities attempted to convict him twice. Pinkerton men were hired to investigate the case for Arbuckle?s lawyers, Hammett being one of them. For years to follow, Fatty continued to remain in Hammet?s thoughts. The other detectives had told him that Miss Rappe had the clap, and that her insides had burst as a result of it. Hammett knew that the Pinkertons always got the true story; He knew that Arbuckle was not guilty. Shortly after this Hammett, having been previously diagnosed with tuberculosis, began growing quite ill, and his job no longer suited his ambitions. It was then that Hammett decided to settle in San Francisco with his wife and daughter.
Hammett began writing in 1923, the first of his works to be published was ?The Parthian Shot? a detective story that was published in Smart Set magazine. Immediately numerous works were accepted for publication in various magazines, in particular The Black Mask. Hammett found that he had a particular knack for writing what the pulp magazines were looking for. His experiences as a Pinkerton detective gave him many ideas from which to call upon for his plots. The fictional characters of Sam Spade and the Continental Op reoccurred in several of these stories.
Memoirs of his life as a detective can be found in much of Hammett?s writing. The vicious atmosphere surrounding the death of Frank Little could be experienced in Hammett?s novel Red Harvest which was set in the town of Poisonville. Specifically, it was about the days in Montana, the corrupt owners, the town bosses, the things he had seen. In a way, the book Red Harvest was a farcical one. In it, the local law authorities seem to go ion one direction, while the crooks went in another. Many of Hammett?s stories addressed his feelings that American politics were corrupt. This was a direct result Hammett?s experiences relating to the corruption of America?s inner cities while working as a private investigator.
Hammett?s elaborate use of description in his novels is no surprise, when examining his training as a Pinkerton detective. This attention to fine detail and personal body movements is something that he did not have to work at to incorporate into his writing; it was already an unconscious effort for him. Many examples of this type of description can be found in The Maltese Falcon, such as the passage: ?She was a lanky sunburned girl whose tan dress of thin woolen stuff clung to her with an effect of dampness. Her eyes were brown and playful in a shiny boyish face. She finished shutting the door behind her, leaned against it, and said: ?There?s a girl wants to see you. Her name?s Wonderly.?? (Hammett 3).
Despite the fact that hard-boiled detective fiction is usually not considered to be ?fine literature? by critics, Hammett?s great work in literature did not go unnoticed. After his death in 1961, columnist John Crosby had this to say about Hammett: ?Dashiell Hammett ? was that rare thing ? a shaker of the earth, an authentic. The Maltese Falcon was one of the best books of its kind ever written. It struck the publishing world and reading world ? which is something entirely distinct from the literary world ? like a thunderclap. Nothing has been the same since? (Johnson 299). Such fine work could directly be attributed to his previous work as one of Pinkerton?s best detectives. His creative style, with strong emphasis on precise detail, has forever immortalized the fictional characters of Sam Spade and the Continental Op. There is no claim greater than this that a writer can achieve.
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