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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Noir Thoughts: Other Big Sleep Characters

            I won’t rehash the last four characters with their destructive chain of events. But the other major (and one minor) character deserve the same treatment, and they are every bit (if not more) the noir characters as those of Sam Spade’s supporting cast.

Carmen Sternwood
            Carmen Sternwood should be a poster-child for self-destructive behavior. She does drugs, sleeps around, gambles, and, oh yeah, murders people when they reject her. She doesn’t seem to have the capacity for any kind of serious thought, simply lets her life flit around so long as she has a good time. There’s an inherent cruelty about her. It would be easy to explain this away with her fits and what must be severe bipolar disorder, but she never shows any kind of remorse. This makes her sociopathic. She killed Rusty, would have killed Joe Brody, and did her best to kill Marlowe. Plus, you know, the other stuff. And yet Vivian excused this behavior.

Vivian Regan
            Carmen’s older sister, she initially comes off as something of an ice queen and tease, but by the end of the book she is a truly sympathetic character. It can be argued that she is moral. She wanted to spare her father from knowing that Carmen killed Rusty. But while this is compassionate, it isn’t truly moral. She gets into debt with Eddie Mars and continues to cover up Carmen’s crimes. She completely perverts the idea of justice all so her father can continue with the delusion that his daughters aren’t maniacs. There is something noble and honorable about her self-sacrifice, but it ultimately causes more harm than good, and would ultimately lead to her destruction as well as Carmen’s.

Eddie Mars
            The big muscle and brains behind all ne’er-do-wells in the book, Eddie is something of a gentleman—yet still ruthless—gangster. He knows when to be soft and reasonable around people, and when to put the screws to them. He extorts Vivian for everything she’s got (including her dignity) to cover up Carmen’s crime, and has no problem eliminating anyone remotely connected to Geiger in order to keep the police out of the affair, especially Eddie’s involvement in it. While he doesn’t meet an end, he is clearly morally bankrupt, though operates by some kind of code as he feels the need to repay Marlowe’s discretion.

Lash Canino
            Eddie’s muscle, he’s an unrepentant hitman who takes too much pleasure from his work. His choices and line of work made it inevitable he would die as someone would finally be quicker or craftier with a gun than he was.

Harry Jones
            Harry is, for me, one of the most interesting characters in the book. Little seen, he represents something of enormous importance. He first makes his entrance by ineptly tailing Marlowe, and after introducing himself he shows that he has little skill for the criminal game by asking Marlowe for money in exchange for information. What’s important, however, is why he’s doing it. He wants to get out of town with his girl, Agnes Lozelle. Agnes worked for Geiger at his porn library, and before Harry she was the girl of Joe Brody. Now they both want to blow town. But Harry is remarkable for doing something unseen in this book. He is the knight that Marlowe describes in both the chess game and the stained glass window. He sacrifices his own life for Agnes.
            It’s a small thing, and perhaps it’s a tiny act of rebellion, but Jones attempts to misdirect Lash Canino from Agnes’s true location, protecting her, despite the torture Canino inflicts on him. He acts with true morality in the face of an evil man, knowing he’ll get nothing out of it in return. And even in his dealings with Marlowe he was honest and upfront. Marlowe tricked—quite easily—information out of Joe Brody, but Harry spoke truth, though limited truth because he didn’t know everything. And he wasn’t motivated out of greed, power, or even lust. He wanted to do right by Agnes and protect her. To him, that was important, it was what a man did.
            It’s what knights were supposed to do.
            Unfortunately for poor Harry, he didn’t know about Marlowe’s chess game. He didn’t know how ineffective knights were.
            And he died because of it.

            I think I have it now. Harry was the last piece of the puzzle. Tune in for the wrap up.

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