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Northern Virginia Community College The Long Goodbye Discussion

Module 10: Discussion 2: The Long Goodbye: 1950’s Language

Analyze the 1950s language as reflected in The Long Goodbye

The novel was written in 1953. You can clearly see anachronistic attitudes toward women and persons of color that were considered “normal” being reflected in the book.  Write about a passage that you think is sexist, racist, classist or something that is now considered outdated unacceptable in civil rights/women’s rights era and beyond.

  • Type out the passage.
  • Explain why the language would be “politically incorrect” or offensive in today’s world, even if it seems obvious why.
  • What changes in society have occurred that make it now seem inappropriate for us to speak this way?

Everyone must contribute at least one substantial paragraph (5-8 sentences). You should have about 250 words of your own ideas, not including the quotation by Thursday of Module 10 and then one response to someone by the end of the module (Sunday night/Monday morning).

Peer’s post to be reviewed:


“He grinned. ‘You give me couple of yards, shamus. So I don’t tell the boss you come out of her room last night.’

‘That would buy a whole busload of wetbacks like you.’

He shrugged that off. ‘The boss gets pretty rough when he blows his top. Better pay up, shamus.’

‘Pachuco stuff,’ I said contemptuously…

… ‘I don’t get called a son of a whore by the help, greaseball. I’ve got business here and I come around whenever I feel like it. Watch your lip from now on. You might get pistol-whipped. That pretty face of yours will never be the same again.'”

In this section and others throughout the novel, Marlowe consistently refers to Candy using racial slurs (wetbacks) and denies him his individuality/nationality by assuming he is Mexican (“pachuco” is a slang term for “a young Mexican-American having a taste for flashy clothes”). Clearly, this demonstrates a certain casual racism that Marlowe is extremely comfortable with, and in today’s society, that alone might serve as a character flaw worthy of consideration by the police in an investigation (“Marlowe has a record of significant racial animosity towards the Chilean butler,” or something along those lines). The change in social norms is mostly due to a more intricate and informed understanding of South America and the different cultures and peoples that inhabit the continent, most likely due to an influx of immigrants from all around the area over the last 70 or so years (mostly the result of US-backed coups; I would assume America saw a large influx of Chilean immigrants after Pinochet’s coup and his genocidal anticommunist doctrine). Even presenting the “help” as Hispanic might be seen as a little dicey by some modern critics, if the book were to take place in modern times. However, the racism presented in The Long Goodbye makes a little more sense when historical trends are taken into account. In the 50s, the overwhelming majority of Hispanic people living in LA probably were Mexican, and South American diasporas were largely nonexistent. This does not excuse Marlowe’s racism, as I suspect Chandler wants to present our protagonist with a certain edge that frames him as more proletarian than the Wades, for instance, but it does explain why such bias/ignorance may have been prevalent. There is also, obviously, the simple fact that in 2021 we have undergone social shifts such as the civil rights movement and integration, which greatly softened (but did not eliminate) the racial animosity that many White people expressed without remorse prior. I think it is important to understand, furthermore, that this is primarily an aesthetic shift; while it may not be appropriate to call a Hispanic-American by a racial slur, it still seems to be perfectly ok to cage thousands of immigrants at the border (regardless of who is president) and to exploit undocumented labor for sub-legal wages. 


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