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The Long Goodbye

Term Definition
The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye was written by Raymond Chandler in 1953. The story centers on Marlowe, whose friend Terry Lennox has been accused of murdering his wife.

Brief summary of The Long Goodbye

Marlowe is driving his friend into Tijuana from the United States to avoid the authorities. When Marlowe returns, he is apprehended by police, but later released when they find a written confession from Terry and receive news that he is dead. Following his release, he is asked for help locating a missing man, and he does, but something about the case seems fishy.

The man and his wife persuade him to spend more time with them and one day, he finds the husband dead and the wife has accused him of the man’s murder. The wife later commits suicide and leaves a note, confessing to killing both her husband and the Lennoxes. Marlowe is later visited by a Mexican man who says he was present when Terry was murdered. Marlowe does not believe him and instead offers another explanation that turns out to be true: the Mexican man is Terry Lennox who has had plastic surgery to conceal his identity. 

Social commentary on corruption in America

The overriding theme present in The Long Goodbye is societal corruption. The character of Harlan Potter, for example, is a wealthy man who will go to any length to preserve his privacy and keep his family from being viewed negatively by the public. Murder, blackmail, and extortion are not too extreme for Harlan Potter. The houses of the rich also play into this theme; they are secluded, protected, and too formal to be comfortable. 

The novel also contains the theme of corruption as an inevitability of American society. When the character Bernie Ohls tells Marlowe that he doesn’t approve of gambling because it contributes to corruption by giving money and power to organized crime, Marlowe responds by telling him that organized crime is unavoidable. He says:

“…Organized crime is the price we pay for organization. We’ll have it with us a long time. Organized crime is just the dirty side of the sharp dollar.”

He knows that it is important to uphold proper morals and ethics, but does not believe that it will change the general attitude of society. Read more about Christian ethics in modern society.

Origins of the story and notoriety

While some dispute this claim, others call The Long Goodbye the greatest of all his works. Indeed, Chandler called it his very best work. Written during a time when his wife was fatally ill, the detective novel includes elements of Chandler’s life and social criticism alike. In 1955, The Long Goodbye received the Edgar Award for Best Novel. 

Chandler wrote the novel when his wife was dying of terminal illness and eventually passed away. After her death, his demeanor became melancholy and he often talked of suicide. Two characters in The Long Goodbye are based off of himself, highlighting his insecurities and alcoholism. The first is Roger Wade, who is typically drunk. He wrote a series of unsuccessful novels, like Chandler, and found it more and more difficult to write as he grew older. Wade’s novels were often viewed as not real literature and both authors had the desire to be seen as real authors. 

The other character that is an obvious projection of Chandler’s own personality is Terry Lennox. Like Chandler, Lennox was an alcoholic and suffered emotional scars from his time in the war; Chandler fought in the First World War while Lennox fought in the second. Lennox, though a Canadian citizen, spent a large amount of time in England and was much more formal than others in his social standing. This made him somewhat of an outcast in Los Angeles. Similarly, Chandler also spent a lot of time in England, as he was raised there and received a formal English education. He viewed England as much more civilized than Los Angeles, which he viewed as superficial and shallow.

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