In the opening of the short story “Corkscrew”, Dashiell Hammett uses vivid details to establish the setting which convey the narrators negative attitude towards relocating to Corkscrew. The narrator describes the people and the place with a sense of foreboding and is portrayed as a cautious and companionless person.
Hammett begins the story with the simile, “Boiling like a coffee pot”, which denotes the searing heat. He reinforces this idea with the words, “shimmering heat” which allow the reader to visualize something that shines and glints in one’s eyes, making them want to look away, and with the repetition of the word “hotter” in three consecutive lines which emphasizes that everything will “blow up” in “one explosive flash” as the blistering heat gets worse. The metaphors “automobiles cooked” and “horses bunched up their dejection” also contribute in making the dessert seeming like an “oven country” which resembles hell allowing the reader to imagine an eternal inferno that chars one to death.
Furthermore, the narrators ill opinion of the place is communicated clearly when he depicts the sand to be “bitter white dust” which forces the reader to taste his resentment and dislike of the place. Consequently, even the road is shown to be hostile as it “dry”, “dusty” and “sharp-edged” with “cactus-spiked”, “sage-studded” plants that seem to act like the weapons of destruction in this threatening place where visitors are made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome and unaccepted.
When the narrator reaches his destination he notices dilapidated buildings that are personified to be “slump[ing]”, “leaning” and “squatting” to illustrate that even they are tired and want to get away from this place as they try “to sneak away”. Additionally the narrator’s lodging has an “unpainted and unpeopled porch” showing that the town is isolated and uncared for.
The first person the narrator notices is the mail carrier who has a “limp” and “empty” mail sack which highlights the lack of contact with the outside world. Following which he soon enters the Cañon House where a “sallow” receptionist ignores his arrival. His unhealthy complexion also shows that the people of the town neglected themselves as much as they did their rundown town. Subsequently the narrator tries to sum up the people in the room and notices a thin, pretty girl with a country lad. He realizes that they are out of place and labels the man’s features as too perfect which makes the reader feel uneasy.
Once the narrator finally goes into his room, he tries to wash the “white grime” he had “accumulated”. This is particularly striking as “white grime” suggests good and evil being amalgamated together and perhaps the bad has rubbed of on the narrator, the new deputy sheriff staining his character. This idea is further hinted at when the narrator puts on a “gray” shirt as the color gray shows ambiguity and insinuates that the narrator is uncertain if he would side with black or white, good or bad. As the sheriff gets dressed he straps on gun and hides new .32 automatics in his pockets as “arsenal” which proclaims that he is willing to fight.
While reading the beginning of the story the reader is forced to envision a stereotypical movie where the law abiding police officer comes to enforce order in a small, sinister and secretive town. The reader can predict that a gun fight is bound to happen and that danger is imminent. Finally, towards the end of the excerpt the reader is left with the question about the perfect looking lad and the sheriff and a strong sense of foreshadowing about shoot-outs and duels waiting to happen.