Los Angeles was still vibrant in the thirties and forties. The country had faced the great depression and the people were suffering greatly. Money was the center of everything and the people bribed to get ahead and murdered others for money. Today, Los Angeles is one of the most successful states in the nation. Some differences are noted from that period and today. Socially, the people have become more outgoing and daring. Some of the activities that were considered crimes at that time are now legalized. In The Big Sleep, crooked police officers would watch over the gamblers. They had to be bribed so that they would not take any legal action. Despite the great depression, the rich used their wealth freely with abandon. They lived luxurious lives spending their time gambling in illegal casinos and self-indulgence. Geiger’s room is described as ornamented with oriental décor and silks. There were many jobs in Los Angeles during the forties because of the aircraft and weapons’ industry. The state produced the supplies that were needed during the war. As a result of this, many industries grew and this meant job opportunities for more people. The area experienced population growth
Corruption plays a big part in Chandler’s novel. Both crooks and those who are supposed to be keeping the law are corrupt. The police force accepts bribes and this contributes to the detriment of the society. This is because they support the ills and vices that continue to plague the people. Things have changed drastically since then. During the time, even the government was involved in corrupt deals. They would collect bribes from gamblers and madams. Contracts were given with favoritism without competing. The officials were aware of organized crime but they were reluctant to do anything about it since they were benefiting from it. The mafia could bribe the officials so that they could secure a place in the city and conduct their business without question. City hall benefited in terms of increased revenue collection that would go to their pockets and to fund the campaigns during elections. This changed at around 1938 when reforms were introduced in the state. The mayor who supported all these crimes was replaced and the police force experienced major reforms. The police force has become more transparent and the people are more aware of their rights. The society has become increasingly intolerant to corrupt police men and women. Those who are caught in such crimes are punished since no one is really above the law.
Social and lifestyles’ changes are also experienced from the 1930, to today. Homosexuality was not spoken about openly since the society was not comfortable about it. Things are now different. Homosexuality has become a common practice. The practice has become accepted and same sex marriages were once legal in California. Those who seem to oppose homosexuality are seen as supporting an oppressive system. Some churches have also changed their strong perceptions and attitudes towards it (La Ganga).With the war going on and riots within the city, people had to find ways to keep themselves busy and entertained.
The film industry was suffering because of low attendance. Most of the pictures shown were black and white. Despite these problems, this period was known as the golden era in the film industry. Movies evolved from silent to talkies. Many genres were introduced including the first cartoon character. Rules regarding sex, violence, religious and crime content were also established. However, these rules did not seem to apply and go beyond the movie industry. Crime was rampant during this time. As chandler records in the novel, there was much violence and many murders that occurred. Things have changed in the entertainment industry. It has become one of the biggest industries in the country and more genres. The quality has improved both in production and acting (Dirks). The rise of the movie industry influenced fashion. The many designers who fled Europe due to the Nazi occupation found a home in Los Angeles. They brought with them Europeans’ ideas of design and this influenced the designs that were in Los Angeles. Fashion also evolved at that time with the use of man made and synthetic fibers. Nylon and rayon were common materials. Los Angeles designers concentrated on designing beachwear clothing. The subject of morals during that time is a hard one to explain.
Both Brigid and O’ Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon by Hammett and Carmen have one thing in common. They act like the typical damsels in distress and they look innocent and yet they are the villains in the story. They are both involved in murdering people and their sexual morals are also loose. Brigid is a married woman and yet she murders her husband so that she can comfortably have an affair. Vivian and Carmen are displayed as women with loose morals freely giving themselves to detective Marlowe. Carmen goes as far as entering his room and lying on his bed naked. In addition to this, she is a murderer without a conscience. Vivian acts as an accomplice to the murder of her husband. They both know what they have done and they help in hiding the body. They are more afraid of their father’s reaction when he finds out about the nude pictures and the pornography rather than the murder they have committed.
The women became disappointed when the detective rejects their advances. As the detective puts it when he is talking to Carmen there were many such women in the building who were probably naked at the time and the neighbors did not mind because they were used to it. This could most likely be explained by the economic situation at the time. Due to the depression, many people did anything to get the money. Many women found themselves the sole breadwinners after the men had gone to war. Those who could not get hired did whatever they could to survive. After the Second World War, there was a lot of sex trade recorded in Hollywood. The rise could be explained by the rewards that the prostitutes were getting. They were highly lucrative because they had high level clients including movie stars and politicians. The prostitutes were usually involved in corruption and bribery and many found themselves in the wrong side of the law. Novelists, such as Chandler, and movie writers did not fail to capture this (Ditmore, 261). Joseph Brody is also a picture of loose morals in that society. He engages in pornography and blackmail. Eddie Mars is a gambler and a crook.
Marlowe on the other hand represents and exposes another side of the society. He seems to be a picture of uprightness and integrity. He dresses Carmen when he finds her naked and drugged in Geiger’s house. He rejects the advances made by Carmen despite her being readily available. He also holds back after kissing Vivian. He refuses to go beyond the kissing. He is not greedy and he avoids the temptation of asking for more money from Sternwood. This is despite the fact that Sternwood is very wealthy and the kind of work that he has been assigned to do is very dangerous. He however fails to show total honesty when he does not involve the police after Brody’s death. He prefers to save Mr. Sternwood from further controversies and so he takes Carmen home. This is in contrast to Spade, the detective in The Maltese Falcon, who turns Brigid in to the police after he discovers that she is guilty of murder. The situation today is much different and such actions can lead one into trouble with the law. Any person who knows about a crime is supposed to tell the police about it. Private detectives are also very expensive to hire especially the ones who are involved in dangerous tasks. The methods of solving crimes have changed over the years. The novels show simple methods of solving crimes where one person is able to solve a crime within a matter of days. With advanced technology; people are now using sophisticated methods to commit crimes. It has therefore become necessary for the police officers to adapt to these changes.
There are some similarities that existed between the two periods. America was facing the great depression, which lasted from 1929. The economy suffered after the collapse of Wall Street and many people suffered. Just recently, people suffered due to the recession that was experienced in 2008. In The Big Sleep, crimes such as murder, pornography and kidnappings occur. Blackmail results due to pornography. Murder and violence are also rampant in both novels. Such situations are common today despite the tough laws that have been put in place. People who engage in such crimes now use advanced methods. Such situations are not unique to that period of time. They continue to happen even today. Women still use their sexuality to their advantage and corruption in the police force is still something that needs to be worked on. Chandler also shows the strained relationship between the private detectives and the police force. Such situations were real then as they are right now. Although it is not something that is spoken publicly, it still exists.
There have been many changes experienced in both times. Some of these changes have been positive. Some situations have not really changed. The morals that people show are not particularly bad because of the time that the person is in; it is more a matter of choice. People behave the way they do because they want to. Crime rates are not as bad as they are depicted by Chandler. They are not done openly and the laws have put more stringent measures. The Los Angeles population continues to grow. It has a diverse economy with the major contributors being the entertainment and fashion industry, tourism and international trade. The movie and entertainment industries continue to influence fashion. This is because the stars in those industries are a big influence to people’s lives
Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep: A Novel. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2002. Print
Dirks, Tim. The Talkies, the Growth of the Studios and the Golden Age of Hollywood. 2010. Web. 7 October 2010
Ditmore, Melissa. Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work, Volume 1. New York, NY: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006. Print
Hammett, Dashiel. The Maltese Falcon: The Thin Man; Red Harvest. New York, NY: Knopf, 2000. Print
La Ganga, Maria. Presbyterians Censure Minister for Same-sex Marriages. Los Angeles Times. Aug 27 2010. Web. 7 October 2010