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Written by Timothy Sexton
The Maintenance of Reputation
As in every Philip Marlowe novel, the world of The Long Goodbye is a cesspool of corruption. What is perhaps even more reprehensible than the depths of corruption to which people can sink is the lengths they’ll go to in order to preserve the illusion of integrity and maintain their reputation. The greater reputation, the farther people will go in order to preserve this façade and central figure in this theme is Harlan Potter. He is merely the symbolic godhead of the truth that lies behind the ornate doors of all those isolated homes inhabited by the wealthy.
America as Plutocracy
The anguish and existential loss of post-WWII American which informs film noir is on full display in this Marlowe adventure. The investigation takes the private detective from the seamy underbelly of the city and right into the homes of the wealthy and the upper class social milieu they inhabit. What is revealed is that not only is there no difference between the propensity for criminal conduct between these worlds, but that the problem is actually worse at the top of the ladder where money ensures corruption of the court system as a means of protecting the wealthy. Just as corruption is a vital component of the system of low level thuggery, so does the entire capitalist system depend upon criminal influence and its influence on every aspect of the system has the result of making American democracy a mere illusion used to cover up its plutocratic reality.
The Isolation of the Idealist
Philip Marlowe remains idealistic in his view that people should adhere to a code of honor, accept personality responsibility and always choose to the do the right thing when the choice is clear. The problem facing Marlow is that he finds himself increasingly isolated from the inhabitants of a world who have come to view someone holding such views as either sentimentally archaic or just plain naïve and foolish. All around him Marlowe witnesses transformation of idealism into pragmatism that have become increasingly more corrupt as the borders of what qualifies as pragmatic become increasingly blurred. The pressure is clear: Marlowe can continue on a path that will situated him increasingly more as an alienated outsider looking in on world that is changing the rules or he can hold fast to his ideals and face not just derision but, increasingly, suspicion.
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