straight down the line

No Justice in Noir

In this post I will discuss my impressions of literature including and limited to: The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Wild Party, The Killers, and A Matter of Procedure.

The Postman Always Rings Twice– James M. Cain

A downright depressing nature isn’t all this story has to offer. It’s also bizarre, difficult to understand, and an inaccurate representation of the criminal justice system. That’s not even to mention it’s racist, sexist, xenophobic undertones.

It’s difficult to decide whether these qualities come from a fantastical writing style, or a cultural difference between the current time period and the setting of the novel. Of course, there will never be an excuse for racism or sexism, regardless of time period. The time period excuse serves mostly to explain the justice system flaws (it seems that police are all knowing, and everywhere) in the story as well as the difficult language that crafts the story itself.

The writing is heavily littered with 1930’s slang, which translates poorly into today’s speech. One has the same difficulties with it as they might when reading a Tom Sawyer novel. The dialect is different enough to give the reader a hard time.

All of these qualities that I have taken issue with (apart from the matters of social justice, of course) do, however, serve to create a noir setting. This is done so well that one can easily imagine the story as a screenplay.

In fact, those social justice issues help create setting too- perhaps the world of noir is the world of the stereotypical white American male. All others who dare get involved risk getting themselves killed, usually by those white American males.

The Wild Party– Joseph Moncure March

This is a dark tale accompanied by strange yet beautiful illustrations, all hidden underneath a charming rhyme scheme. It occurred to me as I was reading it that it is much like Dr. Seuss, for adults with dark tastes.

In terms of noir, what stuck out to me most was that-just as in The Postman Always Rings Twice– this story seems to be a warning of what will happen to a person who murders out of love. Not just any love, but the kind where there are two guys and one very unhappy gal. One star-crossed man sleeps with another man’s gal, murders that other man, and never truly gets away with it.

Other similarities to The Postman Always Rings Twice include blatant disrespect for women, and a swift, surreal involvement of the police. In noir, it seems that the police are one god-like entity, always watching from above, ready to deliver justice.

The Killers– Earnest Hemingway

This story manages to encapsulate most of the qualities of Postman Rings Twice, despite only being about seven pages long. In fact, there isn’t much else to say about it, except that due to the lack of a female character, there is no love triangle, and no real opportunity for sexist language.

But, if you’re looking for an equally racist and convoluted micro version of Postman, then this is the tale for you.

At this point, a trend develops: noir involves murder.  Also, interestingly, so does the use of the name Nick, which was evidently popular in pre 1950’s American literature.

A Matter of Procedure– Jessica Miller

This is definitely the least offensive of all the mentioned texts. It reads more like a poem than anything, and contains some of the more fun aspects of noir: alcoholism, sex, and obsession.

Of course, these aspects can be found in most of the readings on this list, but A Matter of Procedure seems to take a lighthearted stance on them. It’s modern perspective, which includes smart phones and lack melodrama, is arguably preferable to more classic works of noir.  It is also refreshing to experience a narrative told by a female detective.

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