straight down the line

Week Two: Noir Readings

Dealing with the noir genre, the writing pieces I read for this week contain common aspects/ideas of noir. By reviewing “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Chinatown,” and “A Wild Party,” one can take note to how the themes of mystery, male dominance vs. the fem fatale, water symbolism, and death seem to be prominent in the noir genre.

The essence of mystery or suspense is a definitive theme among most noir works. In “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” suspense is created when Chambers and Cora plot to kill Nick, Cora’s husband. In a sense, dramatic irony is created in this way since the readers know of the events to come while Nick is unaware of their devious plans to kill him either through the staged bathtub accident or the planned-out car accident into the ravine. This kind of mystery and suspense is also present in the screenplay of “Chinatown” as Gittes, a private investigator for unfaithful spouses, is sent on a mission by Evelyn to find out who murdered her husband. In “A Wild Party,” a different kind of mystery is created as the reader is witnessing party guests interact with each other as they share exchanges of lust and feuds. Suspense may be present here since it is unknown to the readers how the party guests will behave altogether and the most suspense may be seen as Queenie and Black begin to fall for one another under Burr’s nose. Based on these readings and from the films I saw last week, the noir genre seems to have a common idea of a mysterious-riddle storyline where the characters are presented with a problem they must investigate and overcome and they face deceit and corruption along the way.

Male dominance over women is definitely something to take notice of in the noir genre. Chambers in “The Postman Always Rings Twice” seduces Cora almost too easily, giving the notion that she is easily attainable or suggesting that she is easy. Gittes in “Chinatown” makes a comment about how it is fine for a husband to cheat and the woman should sleep on it or accept it. He also shows a male dominance that seems to normalize violence towards women. When he is asking Evelyn who Katherine is and she switches between her answers of “sister” and “daughter,” he slaps her repeatedly. The same or worse violence is seen in “A Wild Party” as Burrs beats his wife with the heeled shoe and as he twisted Queenie’s wrist. Verbal abuse is also seen in the way he called her a “lazy slut.” Yet, these female characters are not fully dominated by the male in the way that they serve as the fem fatale character. Cora in the end of “The Postman Always Rings Twice” succeeds in outsmarting Chambers as she brings a puma to show Chambers as to suggest that she knew he had talks of killing her with another woman and she frames him for her demise at the end of the story. Evelyn in “Chinatown” is seen as a fem fatale since she does not give in to Chambers so easily and is seen as mysterious and secretive as he hears rumors about who she was and is, from her young pregnancy to her father saying she is a jealous one. In “A Wild Party,” Queenie is a candidate for the fem fatale since she is displayed for her sexuality and she uses it to her advantage to hurt Burrs by seducing Black. Yet at the end of two of the three stories (“The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Chinatown”), Cora and Evelyn end up dead, possibly suggesting that their behavior as the fem fatale is threatening to the male and his dominance and therefore, she must perish to preserve the male dominated normalcy of the time period.

The symbolism of water is prevalent in these noir stories. In the end of “The Postman Rings Twice,” Cora tries to drown herself in the ocean and Chambers rescues her only to have her be killed in a car accident shortly after. Water is seen in “Chinatown” as the story is a mystery involving the drowning of Evelyn’s husband, one of the co-founders of the water irrigation company. The water, as a symbol, typically represents rebirth and renewal, which may allude to the idea of the birth of a new kind of beginning, for Chambers as he faces life in prison, and a new mystery unfolding as Gittes investigates the drowning of Mulwray and learns many secrets along the way about the irrigation company and about Evelyn’s past. There is no water symbolism found in “A Wild Party,” but there is the common theme of death in this story as well as most noir. In each story, murder occurs, which in turn creates mystery and suspense for the readers to uncover the truth. Chambers and Cora plot to kill Nick, Mr. Mulwray is murdered as is Evelyn in the end, and Black kills Burrs as he charges at him.

These readings of noir have been enlightening to the noir genre. Common themes present themselves and share commonalities with one another, the most evident being the idea of death, or more specifically, murder. As for the writing styles of these noir pieces, there seems to be a clear conflict, but many sub-conflicts that occur simultaneously with the over-arching conflict. For example, in “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” Cora and Chamber’s conflict is that they want Nick gone, yet they do not succeed the first time they attempt to kill him and run away. The same can be seen in “Chinatown” as Gittes has to interrogate various people to uncover the truth and finds himself in trouble as he searches for the truth, and this is seen when his nose is cut as a threat when he is near the area where Mr. Mulwray was found. In “A Wild Party,” there are multiple sub-conflicts; the men fighting with each other over one other man, the young girl almost being assaulted by a man, etc. These sub-conflicts add depth to the mystery itself and build up the main conflict more by giving it depth. It seems each sub-conflict is an event leading up to the resolving of the main mystery being presented to the readers.

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