The novel Indemnity Only, by Sara Paretsky, presented many themes, of which one stood out as significant. Feminism was a substantial part of Indemnity Only, which was written in a time where the majority of hardboiled detective fiction’s subject matter surrounded men, which few female characters, and whichever female characters were present were femme fatales. This changed with Indemnity Only, where the main protagonist, V.I. Warshawski, was female, and as hardboiled as the rest.
Indemnity Only came out in 1982, a time where detectives and detective novels were mostly male oriented, however, “writers like Amanda Cross, Sue Grafton, P. D. James, and Sara Paretsky have created detectives who have ‘bent’ some phallocentric elements of the genre in order to impose a feminist perspective” (Irons). In Indemnity Only, feminism is a very prevalent theme, because it shows up every time V.I. Warshawski mentions her family’s disapproval of her line of work, saying it’s not for young ladies like her. Warshawski’s life is an effort to go against the grain in a society dominated by men. Women in this line of business “are aware of the disapprobation directed toward their calling” (Bakerman, 310). Therefore it was rare for women write about female detectives, especially hardboiled detectives.
One of the ways that the novel shows feminism is how similar it is to harboiled novels where a man is the protagonist. V.I. Warshawski “operates in an urban setting; the narrative unfolds from her perspective and is filtered through her morality (a device employed by the tough guys in both narrative and film); she distrusts the organizations that run her city; she cherishes her freedom and independence; and she often finds herself in conflict with the very society that she seems destined to protect” (Irons). This is very similar to the situation that Dashiell Hammett’s character, the Continental Op, faces. The similarity emphasizes how V.I. Warshawski is just as hardboiled as the Continental Op because both have to deal with the corruption and both have to use their intellect to solve the matters, as well as sometimes using force to accomplish what they need. It is also important because it shows that she can handle the stress of going against an entire corporation, in this case, a major banking establishment and a major fictional union. This is a major part of hardboiled detective fiction, the inclusion of political issues. Paretsky manages to incorporate this significant point into Indemnity Only, which proves that feministic novels and detectives can also handle big business. Giving the novel these kinds of “illegal business manipulation enhance[s] the sophisticated aura of Paretsky’s gritty realism” (Bakerman, 309). Manipulation of any kind is a staple in hardboiled detective fiction, it shows that the protagonist knows what he/she is doing. It gives the reader, via the character, a sense of control.
However, there is a difference between men in hardboiled detective fiction and V.I. Warshawski in this novel. In this novel she is “far from the standard definitions of the hard-boiled detective as a man isolated–by choice or necessity–from his community. V. I.’s fictional history identifies her, rather, as a woman of her communities” (Klein). She is well connected with Chicago because she grew up there. She knows people, which might also contribute to her success. She grew up with Chicago, and while she gained connections, she also became tough in her childhood. Another reason for this is because her father was a police officer. By knowing the dangers of the city, she became independent enough to start her business by being a private investigator. Her being independent if very important, because it means she can handle the crooks that frequent the bars. It means that she can find out anything if she can, which is an important feministic view.
Indemnity Only is important because, at the time, it represented women in a way that had not been done before, it showed a “minority who stalk dangerous city streets and who prowl decadent suburbs, attempting to defeat criminals who attack society” (Bakerman, 310). She also “understands minority thinking…, for as a liberal woman, V.I. Warshawski is well aware that she must constantly defend her independence” (Bakerman, 310). Her independence as a woman is questioned as early as accepting the job offer, because “Mr. Thayer” was not sure if he wanted a woman on the case, because it might get dangerous according to him. This may particularly be why Paretsky wanted V.I. to go against big business, to show that she can assert her independence against intimidating and powerful people.
Still to come…bibliography