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George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Thin Man

cover image By: Hammett, Dashiell (male)
Publisher: Pocket Books, Inc. (196)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 266: PS3515 .A4347 T4 1943
Contributor: K. Quinlivan


Era: 1930s Author as on Cover: Dashiell Hammett Geographic Locale: New York City Date of Publication: 1943  |  Original Date: 1934 Setting: urban; upscale Motives: theft, embezzlement, greed, murder

Plot Summary

Ex-detective Nick Charles and his excitement-loving wife, Nora, are in New York City for a brief Christmas vacation, eager to engage in some serious partying. Sleuthing is the last thing on Nick's mind, but he dusts off his detecting skills at Nora's urging to investigate the disappearance of eccentric inventor Clyde Wynant (the "thin man" of the title) and the murder of Wynant's secretary. The police consider Wynant the most likely suspect, but Nick and Nora soon find themselves involved with the other members of the Wynant family, including Wynant's former wife, Mimi Jorgensen, and his two children: daughter Dorothy who enjoys drinking almost as much as she enjoys telling lies, and son Gilbert, an odd young man who dabbles in psychology and frequently eavesdrops on other people's private conversations. Although Nick complains about the case and the offbeat characters he encounters, his investigation continues, and he eventually identifies the murderer, proving to both Nora and the police that he hasn't lost his masterful touch as a detective. In closing, he reminds Nora that they can now return to the business at hand: "Let's stick around awhile. This excitement has put us behind in our drinking."

Major Characters

Nick Charles adult male, 41 years old, ex-private detective, now manages his wife's business

Herbert Macauley "Mac," adult male, early 40s, big, curly hair, rosy cheeks, good-looking, lawyer

Clyde Miller Wynant adult male, middle-aged, tall, thin, white hair, long bony face, ragged near-white mustache, inventor

Julia Wolf adult female, 32 years old, good-looking, confidential secretary to and former girlfriend of Clyde Wynant

Nora Charles adult female, 26 years old, witty, attractive, "lanky brunette with a wicked jaw"

Arthur Nunheim adult male, small, sallow, dark hair, dark close-set eyes, big mouth, long limp nose, bat-wing ears, "shifty-looking," police informant

Dorothy Wynant "Dorry," adult female, early 20s, small, blonde, pretty, Clyde Wynant's daughter, has a crush on Nick

Mimi Wynant Jorgensen adult female, early 40s, blonde, blue eyes, domineering, Clyde Wynant's former wife

Gilbert Wynant "Gil," adolescent male, gangling, pale blonde brother of Dorothy Wynant, large clear blue eyes, long lashes, slightly effeminate looking, interested in psychology

Christian Jorgensen a.k.a. Rosewater, adult male, handsome, tall, thin, dark, waxed mustache, Teutonic accent, carefully dressed, second husband of Mimi Wynant

Shep Morelli adult male, "youngish," plump, dark, medium-height, broad jaw, narrow eyes, gangster

John Guild adult male, big, sandy hair, pale gray eyes, ill-fitting suit, methodical, police lieutenant



Level of Violence

with the exception of the scene in which Nick is shot by Morelli, most of the violence in this novel is implied. When Gilbert Wynant is picked up by the police after entering Julia Wolf's apartment, he shows signs of being beaten: one of his eyes is "completely shut by swollen flesh around it" and his pants are torn. The actual beating, however, is never described. Nick's encounter with Morelli, on the other hand, is fully described, including the impact of Morelli's bullet with Nick's side. The tone remains lighthearted even during the fight scenes.


most male characters are enthralled with Nora and comment on the fact that Nick is lucky to have a woman like her. There are a few brief references to the physical attractiveness of the female characters, but they are relatively mild. In describing the antics of the Wynant family, Nick explains: "They're all sex-crazy, I think, and it backs up into their heads." His justifications for this statement are Mimi's accusations that Dorothy is in love with Nick, and Dorothy's accusations that Chris is making passes at her. Nick and Nora's sexual innuendos are presented in the form of lighthearted, humorous verbal interplay. Nora doesn't seem to mind the fact that other women find her husband attractive and practically throw themselves at his feet.

Gender Roles

fairly traditional. The female characters are wives and daughters, and do not have jobs or careers outside the family. At times, Nora displays some decidedly progressive attitudes toward Nick. Rather than being afraid that he will get hurt chasing murderers, she is awed by his abilities and convinced that he will overcome anything the bad guys can throw his way. This is especially evident when Nick is attacked, and actually shot, by Morelli. She admonishes Nick for knocking her out of the way. She says: "I knew you could take him, but I wanted to see it," which, in turn, causes one of the cops on the scene to say of her, "there's a woman with hair on her chest." When compared with Nora, the other female characters seem like weak, simpering fools who are merely emotional wrecks.


Not a major factor. Nora makes several joking references to Nick's Greek heritage: "He's an old Greek fool, but I'm used to him." "You're a Greek louse." "....he's just a Greek liar." One of the thugs comments that "these foreigners are hysterical" in reference to an Italian-American character. There is one minor reference made to a "nigger."

Alcohol/Drug Abuse

Nick and Nora drink continuously and The Thin Man is famous for its portrayal of alcohol consumption. The novel is often credited with being the first screwball comedy mystery, a sub-genre of writing that is defined primarily by the fact that the detectives do most, if not all, of their detecting while under the influence of liquor. Screwball mysteries are also defined by the light and witty dialogue between the characters. Heavy drinking is glamorized as an integral part of the Charles's sophisticated, urbane lifestyle. When Nora asks Nick "How do you feel?", he responds by saying, "Terrible. I must have gone to bed sober." At the end of the novel, Nora asks Nick if he wants to go back to San Francisco; his response: "Let's stick around awhile. This excitement has put us behind in our drinking."

Law Enforcement

the law is represented in the character of Lt. Guild, of the New York Police Department. Guild is portrayed as a long-suffering homicide detective who is appreciative of any help Nick can give him, although he remains suspicious of Nick throughout the novel. The police conduct a methodical investigation and willingly share information with Nick in order to try and solve the case.

Added Features

Mimi Wynant Jorgensen has a thoroughly abusive relationship with her daughter. Dorothy Wynant is abused both mentally and physically. At one point, she shows up at Nick and Nora's hotel with her lips cut and swollen, her face bruised and scratched, her arms bruised, and her back "criss-crossed by long red welts." She sustained all of these injuries at her mother's hand. There are brief references to the Depression, and the Lindbergh kidnapping case. The following statement precedes the title page in the 1943 Pocket Books edition, reminding readers of the fact that it was reprinted during World War II: "In order to cooperate with the government's war effort, this book has been made in strict conformity with WPB regulations restricting the use of certain materials." The following notice appears at the back of the same edition: "Our Boys Want Books -- The Victory Book Campaign, sponsored by the American Library Association, the Red Cross, and the U.S.O. is asking for your help. Here is something that you can do personally to help the boys in the service. They need books for study and books for amusement and recreation. When you are through reading this Pocket Book, or any book, take it to your nearest Public Library or send it to the address below. All books will be forwarded wherever they are needed most. Commanding General, Fourth Corps Area Headquarters, Atlanta, GA. For Army Libraries. A final wartime reminder printed in this edition reads: "HELP WIN THE WAR!" Don't waste anything. You can help by saving useful wastem and scrap. Save all old paper, rubber, metal, and rags. Give it to a charitable organization, such as the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, the Salvation Army, or the Police Department in some cities -- or sell it to a junk dealer."

Subject Headings

Detectives, Private/ New York (N.Y.)/ Murder/ Police

Psychological Elements

throughout the novel, Clyde Wynant, the missing inventor, is described as "crazy." This description is used to explain his actions to those trying to locate him. Although he has a history of eccentricity, Wynant would probably not be diagnosed as insane. And, since he is actually dead before the novel even begins (or anyone starts looking for him, for that matter), his supposed actions and movements are exagerrated to make him seem unbalanced and keep everyone off his -- and the real murderer's -- track. Other members of the Wynant family are considered mentally unbalanced in some way: Dorothy is described as having a mother fixation, and she is also a compulsive liar; Gilbert is full of psycho-babble and uses his theories to explain the behavior of several characters.

Film Adaptations

The Thin Man, 1934, MGM; The Thin Man (TV series, 1957-1959), MGM Television