The process of writing and editing a Wikipedia article is not as easy as it looks. At first, I admit, I assumed that this project would be simple; I was certainly and strongly proved wrong. Writing a Wikipedia article, or any article for that matter, is no time for talking about feelings or hunches that you get from an individual reading. Rather, it is a time for research and vigorous fact-checking. Nothing that is put into the article can be based upon personal ideas, and any and all facts must be validated and proved to the best of your ability. Even though the topic under discussion seems ambiguous and personal, through writing this article I have learned that the plot of a novel has deeper, universally understood meaning, which gives the work so much more depth than I had previously thought imaginable. I had originally thought that things we deduce from novels are through our own speculation, but I have come to understand that these subjects are debated all throughout the world, such as through Wikipedia articles. Though the process and pacing of the project went from two hours to two days and still more, it is a credit to Wikipedia that their articles are so well-built.
I began my research on various blogs and WordPress sites, assuming that the themes in the Glass Key would be based mostly upon my personal interpretation of the novel. I would check out a couple of qualified blogs (i.e. Professor Marling) to make sure I hadn’t missed anything important and be done in a day. Professor Marling’s blog at first amused me; he was flamboyant in his writing, even using a word like “mustachioed” in his initial description of Ned Beaumont (Marling). Another aspect of his article that entertained me was that he was so set on turning Ned Beaumont into an archetype. He describes Ned as “a new kind of hard-boiled hero: morally ambiguous, of limited effectiveness, neither crack-shot nor pugilist nor deductive whiz” (Marling). When thinking of the “classic” hero, masters such as Campbell and Jung come to mind. According to Campbell, there are three major trials that a hero must go through in order to qualify:
“the first work of the hero is to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those casual zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside, and there to clarify the difficulties, eradicate them in his own case… [second] the man or woman who has been able to battle past his personal and historical limitations to the genreally valid, normally human forms… [third] the hero has died as a modern man; but as eternal man-perfected, unspecific, universal man-he has been reborn. His second solemn deed and task therefore…is to return then to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed.”
I did not consider that to be relevant at all; Ned Beaumont fit none of the characters I had studied previously, and in class we had focused more on the overall themes and characteristics of the entire novel, not simply one character. However, I did enjoy the last paragraph he wrote; it discussed the loss of luck that was reminiscent of novels written during the Great Depression, which I myself had picked up on. The characters all seemed desperate and cutthroat, and the novel projected, in my opinion, an every-man-for-himself attitude. What was exasperating about the article was that Marling never went into very much detail. He stated many of the ideas that I had had, but I was looking for something to back it up and he provided not much more than a plot summary. At this point, I realized that a cursory search would not cut it for this project; either I would find a suitably qualified professor who was willing to explain himself, or I would go it alone, and Wikipedia deserved better than that.
After that first unsuccessful attempt at research, I dug up that pamphlet we had received a couple of weeks prior to starting the projects from the confines of my desk. I decided to start with the obvious; online databases are easy to search, and the University of Mary Washington has all of the best, except for Groiler. The initial problem was figuring out which database to use. I stumbled through five or so until I found America: history and Life, which was stunning, absolutely rife with the kind of information that I needed, and Gale, which provided me with the most important article of all.
Using Gale, I was able to find James Maxfield, the author of “Hard-boiled dicks and Dangerous Females.” His article was definitely a step up from the previous; he focused on the objectivity of the writing style, and through it he brought up the question of Ned Beaumont as a “hero” as well as Professsor Marling. What was all this about an archetype? Maxfield’s article went on to describe the relationship between Ned and Janet; that because of their possible relationship, the plotline is different from the rest of Hammett’s novels and thus, Ned Beaumont has feelings, a somewhat unique character trait among Hammett’s detectives.
That’s when it hit me: Maxfield and Marling had not been referencing the classic archetypes that I had been thinking of. While Ned does go through a “transformation” (his relationship with Janet) he does not seek to empower those he lives with. Instead, he runs away to New York. So, they must have created a whole new set of archetypes for Hammett’s novels! This suggests that Hammett’s “heroes” have an essential flaw in their magnanimity.
Hammett’s detectives usually avoid relationships at any and all costs, though Ned is different. He does not possess the sort of “immunity” to any emotional tie that previous detectives have maintained, such as the Continental Op in Hammett’s Red Harvest. Because of the supposed relationship between Ned and Janet, The Glass Key takes on a more traditional storyline- that of the detective “hero” and his beautiful heroine, ending with a ride into the sunset of New York.
“Neither the Op nor Sam Spade would have gone off with Janet, for as detectives they both strove to be ruled as much as possible by reason. But Beaumont is a gambler instead of a detective–a man used to taking risks. Just as he continues to bet while he is on a losing streak, he is willing to make another kind of wager on Janet–despite the great odds of the relationship ending badly. Because he is willing to accept the risks that human commitments entail, Beaumont is, if not Hammett’s ideal hero, his most completely human hero” (Maxfield). Thus, though Ned Beaumont does not fit either the popular, famous archetype of Jung, nor the weaker, less altruistic “hero” of Hammett’s preferences, but an altogether different one, most closely related to neither.
Gray, Russel W. “Jimmying the Back Door of Literature: Dashiell Hammett’s Blue-Collar Modernism.” Journal of Popular Culture 41.5 (2008): 762-83. America: History and Life. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.
Marling, William, Prof. “The Glass Key, by Dashiell Hammett, 1931.” Web log post.Detnovel.com. Case Western Reserve University, 2012. Web. 2 Dec. 2012. <http://www.detnovel.com/GlassKey.html>.
Maxfield, James F. “Hard-Boiled Dicks and Dangerous Females: Sex and Love in the Detective Fiction of Dashiell Hammett.” Clues 6.1 (1985): 107-23. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.
Campbell, Joseph. “The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell) [Hardcover].” The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell): Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2008. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.