Literature Meme- 6/7 Characters
Philip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler’s mystery novels)
I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.
Philip Marlowe is a private eye who would like very much to be a worse man than he is. If he was, it would spare him a great deal of heartbreak. He wouldn’t have to worry about what happened to alcoholic best friends, or women in trouble, or whether the police were out to screw over innocent people. If he were crooked, he could make a lot more money and have a lot more fun; as it is, he’s possessed with a horrible sense of integrity that makes him turn down bribes, career opportunities, and women he knows he would make unhappy.
His classical education does him little good, except to compare criminals to the second murderer in Richard III or call a cop who keeps repeating himself Hemingway. What enjoyment he gets in the world comes from banter, the occasional friend, and a game of chess against himself (which he admits is “the most elaborate waste of intelligence outside of an advertising agency.”) What purpose he has in the world is being a beaten-down knight, protecting those who need it from those who would do them harm.
Philip Marlowe as a narrator and protagonist is what makes Chandler’s novels work. Something that many contemporary would-be hardboiled writers forget (*cough*Frank Miller*cough*) is that Marlowe is extraordinary because he is not a thug in a world full of them. He kills one man in self-defense in his entire career, and it haunts him. He meets and desires beautiful women, but he can’t be tricked by a pretty face or go to bed with one he doesn’t deeply care for. His language is poetic but brittle, his morals are battered but still there, his problems with the police stem from their protection of the rich at the expense of the poor. Being a good man may make him miserable, but it may also be what keeps him alive and sane.