The Double-crossing Characters in Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

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The story line of Red Harvest is riddled with double-crossing characters, bootleggers and crooked authority figures that obviously challenge universal moral codes of conduct. More importantly, some characters remain more morally ambivalent then others. Although, this is a troupe of hardboiled detective novels from the time, and the Film Noir genre where nothing is as it seems, there are particular characters and events that stand out. The language and situations are so double sided that the reader is forced to question the weave of their own moral fabric. Dashiell Hammett through his writing style is able to reflect on the concerns many had at the time regarding rise in crime and deterioration of Victorian age morals, coincided with the rise of the detective Anti-hero, guilty woman (femme fatal) and vigilantism. In Red Harvest, in both his description of both “Poisonville” and it’s inhabitants, Hammett uses contradicting language, and often iconic reoccurring imagery to express the deterioration of American morals with the growth of underground crime, judicial politics, and the emergence of the femme fatal. The characters in the novel, including the operative himself are willing to lie, cheat, and kill in cold blood for their own personal gain. Although infidelity, greed, and self-preservation are expected from characters involved with the murders and inner crime ring; the story becomes more complicated when characters like the operative, and chief of police begin to get their hands dirty. Bringing the age-old crime ad punishment theme to a higher tier where the reader is unable to make an impulsive decision on who is a “bad guy”, and who is a “good guy”. The operative is able to supersede boundaries that other authority figures... ... middle of paper ... ...e and hidden agendas. Even language Hammett uses is erratic and ungrounded in a moral stance. The only view the reader is able to make a judgment through are the truths the operative spells out for the reader. The novel concludes more hopelessly then it began. Poisonville although now temporarily free from gang activity, is left unredeemable in a sense. Hammett describes the city a final time by noting "all nice and clean and ready to go to the dogs again" (Red Harvest 181). Implying that no matter the change the city will stay the same, open to a new wave of crime and even more deceitful characters. Hammett's representation of this small corrupt city becomes an allegory for American culture in the 1920’s, and more extensively society in general. As a modern reader it is easy to make connections between the morality shifts of the golden age, and even present day.

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