As you all know, even a visual tells a story. However, characters in a text through distinctive voices demonstrate their personalities which contribute to an insightful understanding of the text. Marele Dey’s novel, The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender (Harry…) 1988 expounds the criminal activities of crime boss Harry Lavender whose distinctive voice though unheard is loudest in the text portraying his personality of a corrupt crime lord. In conjunction the narrator, Claudia Valentine’s voice is heard through her thoughts and actions portraying a person who fights such evil men like Lavender. Howard Hawk’s film, The Big Sleep (1946) based on Raymond Chandler’s novel by the same name demonstrates that crime even in those bleak times after the War demonstrated the distinctive voices of criminals. How many of us have heard power invested in individuals but have not seen them?
They exist in reality and in texts that capture the interest of their audiences through the uniquely moulded voices of characters. Some voices are heard strongly throughout the text while others are silent but just as important. Dey’s significant character rather ironically is the crime boss Harry Lavender (Lavender) whose unheard voice written as monologues in ‘ Up here ..…I glide effortlessly along the streets, jump from building to building’, through first person narration not only reflects the arrogance in his voice but also demonstrates his power as a crime boss. He dreams of his funeral which he describes as, ‘…in death as in life the police allow me smooth passage…’ through an arrogant tone to show his importance ironically as a social outcast.
The protagonist, detective, Claudia Valentine’s voice is largely in first person narrative ‘I woke up feeling like death’ metaphorically alluding to her hangover from a night’s drinking. Dey’s unique style of crime writing lies in her deception of her audience into believing that the distinctive voice in the opening chapter is that of a male. Her visual imagery of, ‘…. ash trays full of butts….. empty bottles of Jack Daniels’ including a “good-looking blonde in the bed next to me” challenges the audiences pre-conceived notions, as they assume the blonde is female.
The narrator’s voice brings out distinctive features of a “male” talking and is a subversion of the usual detective genre which is dominated by “male” detectives. As a detective fiction film noir text, The Big Sleep reflects the “bleak darkness” of the Post World War one era in which economic crisis, prohibition and the appearance of a ‘gangster’ underworld created an atmosphere of social decay” caused by black market in liquor supplies. Philip Marlowe, the detective emerges as the lonesome anti-hero who confronts the complex crime.
He is the epitome of the hard-boiled detective, isolated from society, his brusque and laconic vernacular characterising the painfully honest risk taker, drinker and smoker, with a deep voice that is so characteristically American. The opening scene is captured as Marlowe is obscured when the butler opens the door and the audience can only hear his deep laconic American drawl that typifies Humphrey Bogart’s style. ‘My Name is Marlowe, Mr Sternwood wants to see me’, which prepares the audience through his distinctive voice to meet a man of strength and confidence.
General Sternwood a man of some wealth unlike Lavender is well respected and does not succumb to blackmail which was the reason he summons Marlowe. His voice is distinctive as he asserts that, ‘I do not bend to blackmail’ portraying his good values. Hawk’s treatment of the women whose voices are distinctive but beguiling is often criticised with claims that he portrayed them as villains in accordance with the femme fatale of the 1950’s film noir. The general sees one of his daughters Carmen as naïve and always drunk, ‘Carmen is a child who likes to pull wings off flies’ illustrating her child-like personality through the simile and image of a butterfly. This demonstrates how people’s characters are shaped by what they say.
In conclusion characters through their distinctive voices capture the audience’s interest.