Literature de Noir


“The Postman Always Rings Twice” by James M. Cain


“The Postman Always Rings Twice” is about a Greek man, Nick, and woman, Cora, who own a dive restaurant and hire a man name Frank to do handyman work and car repairs. Frank and Cora fall in love and plot to kill Nick. However, things fall through and Frank gets up getting his skull fractured due to the power going out and Cora not going through with the rest of the process. The power went out due to a freak accident with a noisy cat jumping onto the fuse box. Nick is in the hospital for many days and when he was supposedly going to be discharged, Frank and Cora planned their escape to their road, just them and the road. However, Cora did not like the idea of not knowing what they were going to do with their lives and returned back to Nick. Frank continued his journey on the road and made money by gambling at pool, which conveniently leads him back to Nick.

Once again Frank and Cora plan to kill Nick on their trip to Santa Barbara but this time it is by a planned drunk driving car accident, where they knocked him out first then pushed the car over the edge of a 50 ft cliff, while pretending they were in it as well. This was stemmed from the fact that Cora did not want to have a “greasy Greek baby” with Nick. This back fired because when Frank got in the car after they had “set it” the car flipped further down the hill injuring him. Frank ends up in the hospital and Nick dies on the way to the hospital. During his stay at the hospital, he had to encounter the DA and police where he lies about what actually happened to Nick but the District Attorney thinks he and Cora did it for insurance money and wants to pin it on one or both of them. However, once Cora was going to be the only one taking the fall for the murder, she confessed to the whole story about when she met Frank, the first plot to kill Nick, and what actually happened with the car accident. However, Katz ends up getting Cora off by getting the insurance company to testify it as an accident and that she had no idea about the insurance money. Thus, leaving both Cora and Frank off without any kind of charges against them.

Once everything calmed down, Cora and Frank went back to the resturant/gas station. Cora finds out her mother is sick and takes off. In the meantime, Frank meets a girl at the gas station and takes off to hunt exotic cats with her, closing down the shop. Cora got back from burying her mother and Frank got back from his trip to meet the man who took Cora’s confession threatening to give it to the DA unless they pay him money. They keep the man hostage and get the papers that would incriminate Cora and destroys them. Cora finds out where Frank went on his trip and who he went with and tries to leave. Cora is pregnant and that was the reason she didn’t go tell Sackett, the DA about Frank being the cause of Nick’s murder and they went to get married. After the wedding, they went swimming and Cora had strained herself to hard so Frank wanted to rush her to the hospital and on the way to the hospital they got into a car accident. Frank got pegged for the murder of Nick and Cora because of the way it looked for the insurance money and Cora being pregnant.


The story was written in a narrative from the point of view of Frank, the man who steals Nick’s woman, kills him, and ultimately ends up killing his wife. The story has a lot of irony in it and it portrays noir through the promiscuity, corruption, and adultery in the story. Irony is show in multiple ways throughout this story, one is that Frank and Cora murdered Nick through a faked car accident and Cora, Frank’s new wife, is accidentally killed by Frank in a real car accident, which gets Frank pegged for murder on all accounts even though how it came to be was just purely an accident. Theme of corruption is prominent because of the insurance estate money that comes into play and the blackmail from the lawyer’s typographer when he threats to leak Cora’s confession. These themes and literary mechanisms create the essence of noir in the story. Below I continue to list themes.


Degradation of women, smoking, sex, promiscuity, prostitution, adultery, gambling, and corruption.

The Wild Party by Joseph Moncure March



The Wild Party is about a couple, Queenie and Burrs, who are in an abusive relationship. Both are very promiscuous and not loyal to each other. The main portion of the story is about “The Wild Party” Queenie and Burrs throw where everyone who comes gets plastered and ends up sleeping with someone at the party. Queenie’s “Friend” Kate ends up hooking up with her husband Burrs, while Queenie gets with Kate’s date Black. Queenie’s hook up infuriates Burrs and he tries to kill both Queenie and Black at the end but it backfires and he is the one that gets murdered. Black tried to flee the scene but before he can the cops, who were called by the neighbor due to excessive noise and partying, are arriving.


The Wild Party is written in the form of a poem that is continually rhyming. The poem portrays noir through it’s themes like in “The Postman Never Rings Twice”. A few prominent themes were abuse, promiscuous women, alcohol, and adultery.  All of these themes correlate with the typical thought when someone thinks noir media. The women are seductive yet childlike and the men are strong, smooth casanovas, where cheating and adultery are almost normal. It also portrayed abuse in the relationship between Queenie and Burrs, they were both equally as abusive to each other. Alcohol was a driving factor of many of the instances portrayed in the poem, for example the hook up between Burrs and Kate and many of the hook ups at the party between the people. Noir was also shown through the murder of Burrs and how Black begins to flee the scene after the murder, like Queenie tells him too, showing corruption. The characters are very cliche figures and tend to act stereotypical, just as expected.


alcohol, crime, sex, promiscuous women, large parties with many people and alcohol, abuse, sin, death, degradation of women, adultery

“The Killers” by Ernest Hemingway


“The Killers” is about these two men, Max and Al, who walk into a restaurant diner with intentions to wait until Ole Anderson gets there to get his dinner and kill him. They take the cook, Sam, and the owner, George to the back and tell them what they are doing. By the end of the story, Nick, one of the workers who had been tied up during the whole thing, goes to tell Ole Anderson about the men’s plot to kill him. Ole Anderson doesn’t act phased but had no interest in running. He knew they were going to kill him and he had been acting depressed-like. The men were astonished that Ole Anderson did not want to tell the police or run, they chalked it up to corruption of something he did while he was in Chicago.


“The Killers” is written in a narrative form where you know everything about what is going on in the present scene when it is happen. There are many themes representing noir through the story used such as depression, crime, and murder. The two men who are plotting to kill Ole Anderson are in a way comparable to mobsters who are out to get revenge. This is representative of the crime in the story. Murder is the intent however it is not actually committed in the story itself, it is foreshadowed that it will be in the near future. Depression is shown threw Ole Anderson, he was unable to get out of bed and was not willing to do his daily activities, he also was not concerned with the men coming to murder him. This could have been insight to the fact the Ole Anderson knew he did something wrong and knew he was going to have to pay the price no matter what.


Crime, murder, depression


Overall, I really enjoyed all of the readings. They all threw some type of curve ball and kept you wanting to know what happened next, that is truly something I need in a story to keep me engaged. The plot twists and turns. I loved it. I have to say that the poem, The Wild Party, was my favorite read out of all of them. It reminded me a lot of “The Great Gatsby,” with excessive abuse and more cheating.. O.K. not really like Gatsby at all but I imagined the groups of people getting plastered and dressing up very fancy to put on a persona they wanted to portray. I’m starting to grasp the concept of noir and these readings have assisted my view of it in a big way!


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Hello all! I'm a super outgoing junior at Mary Washington! I'm a biology major with a focus in pre-veterinary studies. :)

One thought on “Literature de Noir”

  1. Great catalog of themes! They all come from the dark side of human nature, which is part of what makes it noir. I think I would interpret depression in The Killers as fatalism. There’s a sense of helplessness or hopelessness, of life being out of control, that runs through a lot of noir. The Gatsby/Party connection is good because they’re both from the same time period. So is The Killers, for that matter.

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