Places: The Postman Always Rings Twice

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1934

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1933

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedTwin Oaks Tavern

Twin Postman Always Rings Twice, TheOaks Tavern. Described by Cain as a “roadside sandwich joint, like a million others in California.” The diner also includes living quarters for the husband and wife, a filling station set off to one side, and a grouping of a half dozen shacks referred to as an auto court. The lodgings, in particular, add to the sense of confinement experienced by the two lovers, as they attempt to free themselves from their suffocating lives through a brief and impulsive affair. As portrayed by Cain, this is drifter country, a land of passersby, passing fancies, and passing relationships. It is a place where people are always headed elsewhere. For Frank, it is a place from which to escape. For Cora, it becomes a test of Frank’s commitment to her. By agreeing to stay, he would be signaling that he was no longer a vagabond and, more important, that he was no longer trying to make her into one.

Culinary and carnal appetites are closely intertwined in Cain’s two main characters, beginning with their first sexual encounter in the diner’s kitchen. It is a scene brimming with irony, in that it is the place where Cora’s husband has sharply rebuked her for not adequately gauging the size of Frank’s appetite. In fact, Frank’s desire for the man’s wife serves to diminish thoughts of food to the extent that it sickens his stomach.

Roads

Roads. The many roads that cover Cain’s grim Southern California landscape. The first vision the reader has of Frank is that of him wandering along a road leading to the diner, after having been thrown off a hay truck on which he caught a ride. The open highway symbolizes for Frank the freedom to cross boundaries and to journey into other worlds, where individuals are not bound by stringent social and moral codes. It also acts as a narcotic to undo inhibitions. Accordingly, it is on a mountain road that the two lovers murder Cora’s husband and alongside which the two then make love. Yet the road also serves to separate Twin Oaks from the constraints of the communities that lie beyond it, specifically the specter of the Los Angeles urban industrial complex, which threatens to overwhelm it. In Cain’s world the road is always there, an ever-present enticement to those who seek escape from their emotional and physical confinement.

*Pacific Ocean

*Pacific Ocean. On two occasions in the novel, once before their marriage and once after, Frank and Cora take a trip to the beach, which represents a refuge from the mounting pressures of their unfulfilled lives. “All the devilment, and meanness, and shiftlessness, and no-account stuff in my life had been pressed out and washed off,” Frank says to himself on one of these visits. However, the notion of rebirth is not as authentic as the two characters believe it to be. Their rendezvous with the ocean are but brief interludes in their desperate search for fulfillment. The geography of the ocean only magnifies the dislocation of their lives once they return to the diner.

*Los Angeles

*Los Angeles. Sprawling city in Southern California that acts as a magnet for the hordes of drifters, itinerants, and gypsies who headed west during the Depression era of the 1930’s. The city’s giant shadow looms over Cain’s landscape as a symbol of the broken dreams of those who were seeking a better life but wound up finding just another dead end. The recognition that they may have reached their final destination with nothing to show for it only serves to intensify their desperation and alienation from the rest of society.

BibliographyAhnebrink, Lars. Beginnings of Naturalism in American Fiction. New York: Russell & Russell, 1961. Provides useful introductory criticism.Cain, James M. The Complete Novels. New York: Wings Books, 1994. Contains critical commentary and a comparison of The Postman Always Rings Twice and Cain’s other novels.Hoopes, Roy. Cain. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982. The definitive biography of Cain. Includes a filmography and publications lists.Madden, David. James M. Cain. New York: Twayne, 1970. A critical approach to Cain’s writing and influences.Wolfe, Tom. Introduction to Cain X 3. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969. A useful collection because of Wolfe’s “new realism” approach to Cain’s novels.
Categories: Places