The Glass Key - Themes


“ employs a completely objective approach, merely reporting the conversations and describing the surface actions of his characters, never directly presenting their thoughts and feelings”. This leaves some ambiguity in the reasoning of Ned Beaumont’s actions, such as his suspicions about Janet Henry’s father. This makes it hard to determine the nature of Ned’s relationship with Janet. While there is controversy as to whether or not they are together at the end, the fact that there is a relationship at all is indicative of “a different kind of hero”. According to Carl Jung, the "first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those casual zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in his own case". What is interesting about Dashiell Hammett's characters is that they do follow this first qualifications, as well as the second, which is "the man or woman who has been able to battle past his personal and historical limitations to the generally valid, normally human forms". In The Glass Key, Ned Beaumont does cross the boundaries of society. however, the third portion of the "hero" archetype does not follow with Ned Beaumont; "the hero has died as a modern man; but as eternal man-perfected, unspecific, universal man-he has been reborn. His second solemn deed and task to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed". While Ned Beaumont does go through a "transformation" of sorts (his relationship with Janet, he does not seek to empower those he lives with. Instead, he runs away to New York this suggests that Hammett's "heroes" have an essential flaw in their magnanimity. Hammett’s detectives usually avoid relationships at any and all costs, though Ned is different. He does not possess the sort of “immunity” to any emotional tie that previous detectives have maintained, such as the Continental Op in Hammett’s Red Harvest. Because of this supposed relationship between Ned and Janet, The Glass Key takes on a more traditional storyline- that of the detective “hero” and his beautiful heroine, ending with a ride into the sunset of New York. “Neither the Op nor Sam Spade would have gone off with Janet, for as detectives they both strove to be ruled as much as possible by reason. But Beaumont is a gambler instead of a detective--a man used to taking risks. Just as he continues to bet while he is on a losing streak, he is willing to make another kind of wager on Janet--despite the great odds of the relationship ending badly. Because he is willing to accept the risks that human commitments entail, Beaumont is, if not Hammett's ideal hero, his most completely human hero”. thus, though Ned Beaumont does not fit either the popular, famous archetype of Jung, nor the weaker, less altruistic "hero" of Hammett's preferences, but an altogether different one, most closely related to neither.

A more obvious theme in The Glass Key shows itself through the characters and their respective moralities. Here are elected officials, community figures, and the like who participate in conspiracies that are more often considered common in the underworld. This novel by Dashiell Hammett is set in a more unassuming place than his previous novels, and thus more obviously open to corruption. As such, the characters are based more upon animalistic qualities than in previous novels Hammett wrote. The characters, perhaps through the objectivity of the writing style, are portrayed as cutthroat and almost feral. The reason for their apparent slippage into violence is most likely related to the early Great Depression, as the novel was published in 1931. The loss of “luck,” as described in the novel (“What good am I if my luck’s gone?” He asks. “You might as well take your punishment and get it over with”) is the deciding factor in the actions of the characters. The novel is similar in that respect to later Depressionary novels, such as The Postman Always Rings Twice.

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