The hard-boiled detective story ushered in a revolution in the mystery story. The older "formal" mystery story saw society as a benevolent, ordering force which the detective restored by catching the murderer, while the hard-boiled mystery portrayed society as corrupt, wild and flawed, and presented an implicit criticism of it. The three best writers of the hard-boiled school, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald, show an ethical progression, a turning outward, from the personal, inwardly focused ethics of Hammett's characters to the outwardly turned moral understanding of Macdonald's hero.
Dashiell Hammett writes of an ironic, tough world that the detective accepts because he cannot change it. Hammett's detectives have a strong private code which forms a bulwark against the chaos of society. The detective cannot depend on anything outside himself, so these personal ethics help the detective survive, but he remains isolated and apart from society.
Raymond Chandler's detective turns the focus of his ethics slightly outward. His code is personal, but he believes in ideals outside himself and works towards them. He has honor and truly wants to help those in need, and his code embodies the world as he thinks it should be. He cannot accept the corruption of the world, remaining isolated because of his personal stand against it.
Ross Macdonald's detective has partaken of the world, and has been tainted but not corrupted. Instead he has a greater understanding of people's failures. He also has a personal code, but his emphasis is on helping others understand themselves and their actions. Thus Macdonald focuses the ethical spotlight outside of his detective, on the forces in life that make people go bad.
Master of Arts (MA)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Hammett, Dashiell, 1894-1961; Chandler, Raymond, 1888-1959; Macdonald, Ross, 1915-1983; Detective and mystery stories, American; American fiction
Subject - Local
Loma Linda University. English Program -- Dissertations.
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
Chaffee, Kevin, "From Falling Beams to Fallen Souls : The Ethical Development of the Hard-Boiled Detective Novel" (1984). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 549.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives