Scorched Earth: Expressions of Modernity in Dashiell Hammett's Pulp Fiction
AbstractSamuel Dashiell Hammett (“Dash”), American author and activist, is today best known for one of the novels he published 1930, The Maltese Falcon. My thesis presents evidence that a close study of a selection of Hammett’s short stories and novels published between 1925 and 1930 (“Dead Yellow Women,” “The Scorched Face,” “The Gutting of Couffignal,” Red Harvest, and The Maltese Falcon) exposes his personal struggle with modernity in America, through a discussion of three motifs. In his stories and novels, Hammett explores the fluctuating treatment of immigrants, and changing social spaces for newly independent women in post-World War I America. He also questions the consequences of increasing mechanization in cities, through everyman detectives Sam Spade and the Continental Op. As Hammett’s career progresses, he continues to passionately challenge the benefits of conservative cultural values, while urging caution against the unreserved embrace of modernism.
Research for this paper originated with a close study of Hammett’s letters, and several biographies (including Layman and Ward). A range of critics contributed to a discussion of Hammett as a modernist author (e.g. Wheat and Norman). Articles on post- World War I literature were also essential to my research (e.g. Tate and Stevenson). A review of the available material demonstrated the need to analyze Hammett’s complex relationship with modernity, and how the bond evolved over time. While Hammett establishes specific motifs early in his career, it is not until 1930 that he standardizes his unique portrayal of modernism in American cities, and urges readers to approach modernism in America with cautious optimism.
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