Postman rings twice

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Jan 10 04:09:42 UTC 2001

This is from a web site,

A Note on the Title of James M. Cain's Novel 'The Postman Always Rings Twice'
                       In "Murder on the Love Rack," the tenth chapter
of CAIN: The Biography of James M. Cain (New York: Holt, Rinehart and
                       1982), Roy Hoopes details the history of Cain's
famously enigmatic title for his first novel. According to Hoopes,
Cain originally
                       titled the work Bar-B-Que, but the publisher
Alfred Knopf who was considering publishing the novel objected to the
title and
                       suggested For Love or Money instead. Cain hated
Knopf's title because he found it generic, the sort of title that
seems designed
                       to market any sensationalistic book or movie.
In return, Cain offered to call the book Black Puma or The Devil's
Checkbook, but
                       Knopf rejected these as well. Hoopes reports
that finally, during a conversation with the playwright and
screenwriter Vincent
                       Lawrence--Cain's best friend in Hollywood, and
the person to whom he ultimately dedicated this novel--came up with
the title The
                       Postman Always Rings Twice. The two writers had
been commiserating over the agonies of waiting for the postman each
day to
                       find out the latest news on their submitted
manuscripts. Lawrence said that he would sometimes go out into his
backyard to avoid
                       hearing the postman come but complained that
the postman always rang twice to make sure he was heard. This
anecdote put
                       Cain in mind of an old English and Irish
tradition according to which the postman always rang (or knocked)
twice to announce
                       himself. Cain pitched the title to his friend
and Lawrence agreed that this metaphor was well suited as a
description for the fate of
                       Frank Chambers. Knopf, of course, accepted the
title, and Hoopes notes that this title, with its rather obscure
meaning, may in
                       fact have contributed to the controversy that
fueled the novel's huge success.
                       J.C. Caruso
                       University of Washington

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