The Big Sleep
by Raymond Chandler
Analysis: What's Up With the Title?
The Big Sleep isn't exactly the catchiest of titles. It's not as blood curdling as Murder, She Wrote or as hair-raising as Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles. We don't even find out what "the big sleep" even means until literally the very last page of the novel.
For a discussion of the title's literal meaning, check out our "What's Up With the Ending?" section. For now, let's chat about why in the world Chandler would wait until the very end of the novel to (a) mention the title, and (b) tell us what it means in the first place.
What are some of the things you thought "the big sleep" might represent as you were reading the novel? Did you think it had something to do with the act of sleeping? Is it just an extra long nap? To be sure, a whole lot of the novel does take place at night when people ought to be in bed catching some Zs. So the title seems to emphasize the nocturnal quality that is present throughout the novel. Plus, Marlowe seems to get very little sleep in the novel. He's always staying up late to track down leads or getting drunk.
And what might the adjective "big" signify? Does it have something to do with being in a big city? Are there more sleepless nights in a big city like Los Angeles? And if it's a sleep that's bigger than a usual sleep, then does that mean it's a sleep you wouldn't wake up from? Maybe, as you read, you realize that the title seems to be hinting toward death (spoiler alert: it is). But by waiting until the second-to-last paragraph of the novel to tell us what "the big sleep" is, Chandler also creates a little suspense. He's prolonging our anticipation until the last possible minute.