AWEJ. Special Issue on Literature No.2   October, 2014                                    Pp. 82-95

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Violence and Gender in Dashiell Hammett’s Short Stories

 

Maysaa Jaber
Psychological Research Center
University of Baghdad
Baghdad – Iraq

 

 

Abstract
This paper is interested in interrogating how Dashiell Hammett’s (1894 – 1961)  use of the short story is interconnected with the gender scheme in his work on the one hand, and the representation of violence, on the other. It argues that although Hammett is known as the author of The Maltese Falcon  (1930) The Glass Key (1931), his  short stories show best his themes of gangsterism, the urbanization of the American city, and more importantly his interest in female criminals who work on a par with the male detectives. The paper aims to demonstrate that Hammett consistently relied on the short story to create his hardboiled world where the gender dynamics, encapsulated in  detectives threatened by the dangerous sexuality of female characters, is intrinsically tied to the violence that pervades his texts. This paper also argues that Hammett utilized the characteristics of the short story (for example, brevity, and  economy of the description) to deconstruct the formula of the classical detective story to create a “hardboiled” formula which establishes an underworld of violence and lawlessness,  and proffers a character study of the criminal himself or herself.  Hammett’s short fiction can thus be considered as a thread  that leads to see his writing as a platform that portrays the complex intertwined discourses of criminality, power, and gender roles.
Keywords: Dashiell Hammett, short story, crime fiction, violence, gender

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Maysaa Jaber, PhD in English and American Studies from the University of Manchester, UK.
Her doctoral work examined literary representations of criminal femme fatales in American
hardboiled crime fiction in relation to medico-legal work on criminality, gender, and sexuality
from the 1920s until the end of World War II. Now she is a lecturer at the University of
Baghdad where she teaches different modules on literature to undergraduate students. She was a
fellow in The University of Massachusetts Boston from September to November 2013. In
addition to contributing book chapters and journal articles, her first manuscript The Criminal
Femme Fatales in American Hardboiled Crime Fiction is forthcoming with Palgrave
Macmillan.