The image of women in Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels.

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Harper, Donna
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Middle Tennessee State University
The hard-boiled mystery novel of the 1940s set a standard by which mystery novels were to be judged for years to come, but the advent of the women's movement in the 1960s caused a different perspective to be used for the judgment of women's roles. In the early, hard-boiled mystery novels of writers like Dashiell Hammett, Mickey Spillane, and Erle Stanley Gardner, the treatment of women was very stereotypical; female characters fell into the dichotomy of either the good girl or the bad girl. After the advent of the women's liberation movement, the portrayal of women in the hard-boiled mystery changed substantially. Writers like Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald began portrayals of women which produced multi-dimensional characters.
These changes wrought by writers like Chandler and Macdonald paved the way for the writing of Robert B. Parker. Parker in his Spenser series has come to depend on the characterization of women. Parker's portrayal covers the female from her role as housewife and mother to her role as prostitute and pawn of the male society in which she lives. Parker was also one of the first mystery writers to create a long-term relationship for his detective. The advances made by Parker made possible the work of other writers and seemed consistent with the sympathetic portrayal of women as evidenced by writers of the female hard-boiled mystery novel.
Parker's portrayal of his female characters is a steady progressive move from the writings of the early hard-boiled writers, but his portrayals mirror the writings of contemporaries like Ed McBain and John D. MacDonald. The sympathetic, multi-dimensional portrayal of women also mirrors the move of women from the home place of the 1940s and 1950s to the workplace and universities of the 1970s on.