Samuel Dashiell Hammett was born on May 27 1984 in the state of Maryland. He grew up in different places including Baltimore and Philadelphia. He began working at the age of 14 because he needed to help his family. He got the chance to work as an operative for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. This gave him a chance to travel to many places throughout the country. He developed tuberculosis and this affected his health for the rest of his life. He later joined the army at the age of 48 during the Second World War, and he got the chance to serve for three years (PBS). He could not continue his work as a detective because of his frail condition. The work he did at the Pinkerton agency exposed him to the crime and detective world. It would later influence his decision to write and provide much of the content he included in his stories (Raczkowski 629).
Hammett published his first story in 1922 in The Smart Set, which was an upscale society magazine. The following year, he published in Black Mask, as the magazine suited his stories the most. Hammett continued publishing his story in the Black Mask for the next several years. In 1928, he published his first full-length novel Red Harvest. The novel was a marked departure from other detective stories of the time. Hammett used his experiences working for the detective agency for most of the content in the novel. The novel was raw and it had a different rough style, which would later be known are ‘hard boiled. Hammett was encouraged by the success of his first novel. Within a short time, he had published his second novel The Dain Curse. Many of his readers identified with the characters he created in his novels. The characters appealed to the readers because they were real and unapologetic. He published the Maltese Falcon in 1930. The book was immensely popular and it was printed seven times in its first year. This was followed later by The Glass Key. He later published the Thin Man in 1934.
Hammett wrote first hand accounts of his experiences. He modeled characters such as the Continental Op and Sam Spade after himself or after some of the people that he had known while he worked as a detective. His work included dark and heavy themes. This was a reflection of what he had experienced when working at the agency. He presented the characters in a realistic way. He did not paint the detectives in a positive light all the time. Instead, he exposed their weak areas and their limitations. He wrote about detectives who were reluctant to do their work even though they ended up solving crime (PBS). He also wrote about the social ills plaguing the society of the time. He wrote about corruption in all its forms. For instance, in The Glass Key, Hammett wrote about the politics of the rich and their involvement in corruption as they sought more power. In addition, his lead detective character was from the street, and this distinguished his work from other publications of the time (Knox and Pinch 312). He also wrote about controversial issues at the time. In the Thin Man, Hammett wrote about a couple who had an open marriage. This was scandalous at the time.
Hammett’s condition with tuberculosis separated him from his wife and child. However, he had an affair with Lillian Hellmann. Even though both of them were married, they continued with their affair for a long time and they remained friends until Hammett’s death in 1961. Hammett became an alcoholic. He developed writer’s block and this stopped him from writing (PBS). He had written many books and stories within a short period. Once he developed writer’s block, he was never able to continue writing as successfully as he had done. In addition, since most of his stories were based on his experiences as a detective, he realized that he was repeating some of the stories in his other work. Despite his weaknesses at the end of his career, Hammett managed to become one of the most recognized writers of his time.
Knox, Paul and Steven, Pinch. Urban Social Geography: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2014. Print
PBS. “Dashiell Hammett: About Dashiell Hammett.” Public Broadcasting Service. 30 Dec. 2003. Web. 11 May 2015
Raczkowski, Christopher T. “From Modernity’s Detection to Modernist Detectives: Narrative Vision in the Work of Allan Pinkertn and Dashiell Hammett.” Modern Fiction Studies 49.4 (2003): 629-659
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