American Noirs Comparative Essay

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1120 Words
Date:  2022-03-29


Two of the most predominant short American noirs of the 20th Century are Pastorale by James M. Cain and spurs by Todd Robbins. They feature importantly in a collection of short noirs put together and edited by James Ellroy and Otto Penzler. They are similar in certain aspects, but there is a sharp contrast in some other elements. While reading through both stories, I was able to pick some comparisons. The comparisons, particularly revolve around plot development, major themes, characters and style of writing. This essay investigates how both books are similar or different to each other in respect of the aforementioned aspects.

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The theme that runs through both stories is murder and vengeance. In the short story, Jacque tolerated a lot of ridicule in the past owing to his short stature, but a turning point came when his wife Jeanne Marrie insulted him during their wedding night celebration party. She sarcastically in a drunken state declared that she could carry her "little ape" on her shoulders throughout France. Jacque was not amused by the demeaning comments and planned to revenge. On the other hand, Jeanne had accepted the marriage to Jacque because the man was wealthy. The plan was to get married and poison him and then take his wealth. During her wedding night, she declared that it would be a matter of time before she got the "apes" money (Robbins 165). However, as it would turn out, she grossly underrated Jacque, by expecting that he would easily fall to her calculations. Jacque revenged by killing Simon, the man, she truly loved. Jacque had actually required his wife to fulfill the rant she made by carrying him on her shoulders throughout France. Simon tried to defend her from performing that, but was overpowered by Jacques dog and killed (Robbins 171). In James "Pastorale", Lida, the girl and Burbie the former boyfriend, plan on getting back together when the latter returns home. The problem is that Lida had gotten married to another older man a year before (Ellroy 57). They planned to eliminate the husband, who owned a local dry goods store in the small town. They enlisted the services of another killer by the name Hutch, who together with Burbie gets the job done (Ellroy 63). However, things take a different dimension when the cash reward promised to Hutch fails to materialize. The murder scene was managed haphazardly and when investigations were carried out, Hutch was quickly traced as the killer, though Burbie comes out to confess his role to the authorities later on (Ellroy 77).

Similarity in both stories, is the aspect of irony as a stylistic device, in that the murders did not go as planned by the executors. In "Spurs", it's Jeanne, who planned to kill Jacque but got his true love Simon killed instead while in James "Pastorale" the killers did not succeed in getting away with murder. The planners of murder never got what they wanted. In the "Spurs", the story ends without mention that the selfish and cold-hearted Jean succeeded to take over the Jacques estate while in "pastoral", the conniving duo of Lida and Burnie never get to settle down as a couple. Hutch the money loving accomplice to the murder of Lisa's husband expected huge cash reward only to find 23 dollars in a pot. He never got to enjoy the money as he had expected (Horsley 39).

The plots of the short stories are similar on one front, which is the plot of relatively younger characters, plotting to kill their respective older husbands (Horsley 25). In the "Spurs", Jean lanned to hasten the death of her husband so that she could inherit his wealth. In James "Pastorale", Lida planned to have her older husband eliminated so that she could be free to settle down with Burnie who was a younger man. In both plots, nobody had pushed these characters to have such sinister motives; they were only reacting to their own self-interest (Horsley 32).


However, the plots of both stories differ in terms of where the plot is developed (Horsley 37). In James "Pastorale", the plot is developed in a country like setting. This is evidenced when, for instance, Burnie and Lida meet frequently in the cornfield where they plan to have her husband eliminated was first hatched. Horse riding and frozen river all bring an atmosphere that is country- like (Ellroy 69). On the other hand, the "Spurs", seems to have been developed in a town setting. For instance, Jean and Jacques's wedding took place in the town called Roubax (Robbins 166). After the formal wedding ceremony, a feast was organized in a tent and many celebrities attended. The phenomenon of celebrities is most likely to be in a town or urban setting.

The styles of writing differ between the two short stories. James M. Cain seems to be very economical with words. He mostly describes the characters and events himself instead of letting the characters speak directly. The story, therefore, has taken a descriptive character instead of a first-person narration. An example of such description is found when the author describes how Burnie and Hutch murdered Leda's husband, how baby tried to dig a grave, but hardly made a hole, and the events that followed thereafter, like the arrest of Hutch and Burnie turning himself in (Ellroy 73). However, the "Spurs" adopts the style of first-person narration. It says that "And will you not remember me at all, Simon?" she asked in a low tone. "It may take a while before I finally have the ape's wealth." " how can I forget you, Marrie?" he whispered. "I swear, not ever! I pause for you until you accomplish giving that mouse some poisoned cheese that will kill him" (Robbins 168). The conversation between Simon and Jean at the wedding captures the intention of both individuals in a very vivid manner. The reader is able to hear the voice and exact words of the characters directly.


To conclude, both stories are dark and gritty. The characters are different, but possess similar character traits, that of being cold-hearted and self-centered. The characters in both stories are relatively young women plotting against their older well do husbands for their own benefit. The end is very similar, in that none of the characters get what they wanted to achieve through murder. They address the same theme that of engaging in a crime in the hope of getting away with it and fulfilling ulterior self-interests. Both stories underline a fact that the end does not always justify the means.

Works cited

Ellroy, James. The Best American Noir of the Century. Random House, 2011.

Horsley, Lee. The Noir Thriller. Springer, 2016.

Robbins, Bruce. "The Detective Is Suspended: Nordic Noir and the Welfare State." Crime Fiction as World Literature, 2017.

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