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In the tradition of American hard-boiled detective fiction, the lonesome private investigator untangles the web of crime on the “mean streets” of the modern city. But the world of vice and corruption in which he works challenges his moral and masculine identity. This article examines Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and the place of the hard-boiled detective in American cultural ideology. It suggests that the hard-boiled detective manifests a deepening crisis of masculinity. Philip Marlowe’s morality and chivalry remind us of the early American pioneer or the questing medieval knight, but amidst the corruption of modernity and overwhelming social forces, these classic notions of masculinity cannot be realized. In the crime-ridden modern city, where there are no innocents, the “damsel in distress” has become the “femme fatale,” and the individual is crushed beneath overwhelming social forces, the hero as defender of justice and protector of the innocent is an anachronism.
Keywords: hard-boiled detective fiction, Raymond Chandler, masculinity, frontier, heroes in literature
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