Not many people have a life altering experience, thus attaining the opportunity to change their life for the better. A character in one of Dashiell Hammett’s novels, The Maltese Falcon, attains this opportunity, yet he does not take advantage of it. Flitcraft, the name of this character, leads a corrupt life as he leaves his wife and children. One day as he is walking past a building, a beam falls eight stories down, and it lands right in front of him. This experience leaves Flitcraft with only a scratch, yet with a whole new mind. Hammett writes, “He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life, and let him look at the works.” He sets out to change his life, and he even moves to a new state. Soon, however, he returns to his old ways, and he has no remorse. Hammett writes, “He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell.” As Hammett implies, too many people adjust themselves to their corrupt ways, and become accustomed to this way of life. Hammett uses the detectives in his novels as symbols of the idealism through which the corruption of the police, law, society, and family is exposed. These detectives are idealistic men who refuse to ignore the corruption in daily life, and dedicate their lives to correcting it. Hammett’s detectives live as if someone is constantly taking the lid off their lives, and constantly letting them take a look at the world around them.
Dashiell Hammett himself was a private detective. He was a member of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The Pinkertons, founded in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton, were detectives, innovators, and protectors to both those who hired them and, inevitably, to the whole world. The Pinkertons were a private agency that set the standards for criminal investigation today. They were pioneers in their field, inventing the mug shot, keeping a growing file on every known criminal, nationalizing fingerprinting, and linking the agency to their international counterparts. The Pinkertons were known to chase a criminal from one end of America to the other. Their clients loved them while criminals and labor unions despised them. During a time when outlaws roamed the world and the local police forces were not doing their job, the Pinkertons boldly met their responsibilities. They were a private Agency who dealt with problems that the government could not solve.
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