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The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep

by Raymond Chandler

Chess

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

For this one, turn to Chapter 24 when Marlowe finds Carmen lying naked in his bed. Trying to be the chivalrous knight, Marlowe asks Carmen to get dressed and leave. He looks down at his chessboard and moves the knight piece, but a few minutes later, he realizes that it was the wrong move, and puts the knight back to its original square, saying that, "Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn't a game for knights" (24.29).

Is your symbol alarm going off? Ours certainly is. Marlowe claims that knights have no place in a world like modern-day L.A. He lives in a society run by more powerful chess pieces like the king or queen. He feels that knights are not valued in such a world, and that they rarely end up the winners. Marlowe chooses not to sleep with Carmen, which maintains his knighthood—sortakinda. But eventually he'll have to ask himself why he bothers. Does his effort to remain a chivalrous knight in a corrupt world mean that he'll ultimately lose the game?

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