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The Long Goodbye: Analytical Essay

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While artist’s journey might not appear to be the central theme in Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, upon a closer look, the concept of a detective’s work as an artistic journey achieves particular importance in the novel. Philip Marlowe, an untypical private eye, travels through the search for truth alone and as an outsider, he faces numerous indignities and suffers from various encounters, yet he manages to overcome the obstacles and carries on despite serious setbacks. This paper explores the character of Philip Marlowe from the perspective of the artistic search for truth as the basis of the investigating activity. In other words, it explores the non-conventional nature of Marlow’s approach to investigation through drawing parallels with the on-going artistic quest for truth.   

Like an artist, Philip Marlowe sets out for his finding the truth alone. Henry Miller, a U.S. writer, once wrote, “An artist is always alone – if he is an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness.” (Miller & Nin, 1961, p. 66). As an artist by nature, Marlowe spends some time deep in thought; he is found to be in some kind of seclusion on a daily basis. For example, after Marlowe drives Terry Lennox where the latter asked him to and ensures he catches a bus on Cahuenga, he drives home “thinking about this and that” (Chandler, 1988, p. 14). Here the author stresses Marlowe’s immersion into his thinking and his being alone during this. Similarly, when the PI gets home, he again is alone and trying to concentrate, or probably this is just the way to ease up the pressure: after the encounter with a policeman and a talk with Teddy, Marlowe spends time playing chess alone. To illustrate, “I set out the chessmen and played a French defense against Steinitz. He beat me in forty-four moves, but I had him sweating a couple of times.” (Chandler, 1988, p. 14). Marlowe lives on his own; he is neither married nor is he in a relationship; he does not seem to have any close partners in his professional activity. When an opportunity to marry arises (Linda Loring divorces from her spouse), Marlowe refuses. On the one hand he does not want to be a kept man; on the other hand, he probably does not want to change his lonely lifestyle: just like a true artist, he cannot go by without loneliness. Still, he spends a night with her.  

While loneliness may well be perceived as a bit unrealistic projection of the PI image, it helps to maintain the focus on Marlow’s personality, his inner world, and his perception of the events. For example, lots of attention is paid to Marlowe’s thoughts which reveal his mode of thinking. This approach clearly distances the detective from all other characters in the novel. By seeing other characters through Marlowe’s eyes, the reader feels the contrast between their worlds and that of the investigator. So, again, in his world of solving detective puzzles and in his philosophizing about life, Marlowe is alone. This may be illustrated by the following passage: “He (Sergeant) hung up in my ear. I replaced the phone thinking that an honest cop with a bad conscience always acts togh. So does a dishonest cop. So does almost anyone, including me.” (Chandler, 1988, p.102).     

At the same time, Marlowe is driven by his desire to find truth. This also likens him to an artist whose quest for truth is inseparable from the very name of an artist. For Marlowe, truth is above all. Even above his personal benefit or comfort. Even if it is affects him financially or professionally. He does an investigation to clear the name of his friend Terry at his own expense. Similarly, he does not lie in everyday life even if it could somehow be beneficial for him. He may sometimes leave out some things, but that is his right.  For instance, when interviewed by Captain Hernandez, Marlowe provides true information about the night spend in the Wades’ house, yet leaves out some details for the sake of his investigation. He says about his account, “The stenotype operator took it down. Nobody interrupted me. All of it was true. The truth and nothing but the truth. But not quite all the truth. What I left out was my business.” (Chandler, 1988, p. 280). 

Like an artist, Marlowe is a romantic outsider. In the capitalist society whose primary goal is to make money, he evidently appears to be an alien. During the conversation with Ohis, Marlowe says he is a romantic who cannot stay aside from people in trouble: “I stood up and walked around the desk and faced him. “I’m a romantic, Bernie. I hear voices crying in the night and I go see what's the matter. You don't make a dime that way. You got sense, you shut your windows and turn up more sound on the TV set. Or you shove down on the gas and get far away from there. Stay out of other people's troubles. All it can get you is the smear”. (Chandler, 1988, p.292)

Marlowe’s romanticism is first of all in his love to people. Love to people is another powerful force, apart from love of truth, which inspires the detective to help them even when other people would prefer not to. The following passage illustrates Marlowe’s humane attitude to others: “Last time I saw Terry Lennox we had a cup of coffee together that I made myself in my house, and we smoked a cigarette. So when I heard be was dead I went out to the kitchen and made some coffee and poured a cup for him and lit a cigarette for him and when the coffee was cold and the cigarette was burned down I said goodnight to him. You don't make a dime that way.” (Chandler, p.292) To cap it all, in his love to people Marlowe is ready to lend a helping hand in the situations other people would not do. For example, “Eileen Wade is worried about her husband, so I go out and find him and bring him home. Another time he's in trouble and calls me up and I go out and carry him in off the lawn and put him to bed and I don't make a dime out of it.” (Chandler, 1988, p.292) The very fact that he does things not for money, but out of kindness, surely keeps Marlowe’s character in contrast to other characters in the story and in contrast to the leading ideas of his society. Indeed, sticking to moral principles and being so punctilious in matters of money makes us think of Marlowe not only as of a romantic, but a reall outsider.  Just because he feels money he got was connected to something wrong, he does not spend it, and returns it in the end: “I've got a five-thousand-dollar bill in my safe but I'll never spend a nickel of it. Because there was something wrong with the way I got it. I played with it a little at first and I still get it out once in a while and look at it. But that's all--not a dime of spending money.” (Chandler, 1988, p.292)        

Similarly to many artists who do not give up their quest for truth even if it costs them confortable living, Marlowe carries on despite the fact his activity makes him suffer and often gets him into serious trouble. He is well aware of the problems he is going to face, but remains faithful to his ideals. This leads to the thought that he is a great philosopher with his own philosophical vision of the reality. To illustrate, “No percentage at all. No nothing, except sometimes I get my face pushed in or get tossed in the can or get threatened by some fast money boy like Mendy Menendez.” (Chandler, p. 292). The setbacks such as police beating do not frighten Marlowe and do not make him give up his quest in order to clear the name of Terry, so he is what Louis L’Amour, an American Western fiction author, once wrote about, “a man, like a ship at sea, […] always moving towards a destination, not simply moving” (GoodSirs, 2012). Eventually, Marlowe’s perseverance leads him to revealing the mystery behind the murders of Sylvia Lennox and Roger Wade.

At the same time, the way to finding truth is not that straightforward. Just like artists, who are often at odds with themselves, Marlowe, too, happens to be haunted by depressing feelings. For example, while in a jail, the detective finds out that his soul is filled with emptiness, as if he felt his efforts were meaningless: the old Terry Lennox, the drunk he was attached to, deceives him: “In jail a man has no personality. He is a minor disposal problem and a few entries on reports […] In another cell you might see a man who cannot sleep or even try to sleep. He is sitting on the edge of his bunk doing nothing. He looks at you or doesn’t. He says nothing and you say nothing. There is nothing to communicate” (Chandler, 1988, p. 52) As for his encounter with disguised Terry Lennox, the best words that describe it, are Marlowe’s: “So long, Señor Maioranos. Nice to have known you - however briefly.” (Chandler, 1988, p.398)  This phrase shows emptiness that fills Marlowe’s soul – emptiness that should not be mistaken for defeat: the very meaning of Marlow to accept the changed identity of Terry Lennox and justify his behaviour after fleeing to Mexico evidences that he remains faithful to his love of truth.

To sum up, Marlowe is an untypical detective with a clearly artistic approach to life. His philosophical mind, loneliness, his romanticism, love of people and truth, his status as an outsider, as well as his perseverance in following his ideals prove his artistic nature. An investigator-artist, Marlow is clearly an outstanding character in the world of detective fiction.

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