English R1B

Reading and Composition: Some Hard-Boiled Detectives

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Fall 2019 O'Brien, Garreth
MWF 10-11 214 Haviland

Book List

Chandler, Raymond: The Big Sleep; Hammett, Dashiell: Red Harvest; Himes, Chester: The Real Cool Killers; Macdonald, Ross: The Chill;

Recommended: Graff, Gerald and Cathy Birkenstein: "They Say/I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing


"It is not a very fragrant world, but it is the world you live in. . . ." So Raymond Chandler characterizes the world out of joint painted by "the realist in murder." The tradition of hard-boiled detective fiction offers (arguably) some of the most significant attempts to grapple with the nature of violence (criminal, institutional, and everything in between) in American society, whether we agree with it or not. This is a course on a few key novels from its most celebrated practitioners.

In this course we will consider five hard-boiled detectives—Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op, Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, Chester Himes's Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, and Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer—and the compelling, sometimes hilarious, frequently disturbing novels in which they appear. These are novels to enjoy; but we will also use this "lowbrow" genre to ask questions about the "literary": What is the relationship between literary style and popular language? What do we do when we read for the plot; and what are the values and dangers of this kind of reading? How do specific forms of narrative (like the mystery novel) model social structures?

There will be a number of shorter written assignments and revisions of those assignments, culminating in a longer research paper.

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