Study Guide

The Big Sleep Quotes

  • Isolation

    A racket like that, out in the open on the boulevard, seemed to mean plenty of protection. I sat there and poisoned myself with cigarette smoke and listened to the rain and thought about it. (5.35)

    In this scene, Marlowe sits in his car and watches Geiger's store. The key phrase in this passage is "poisoned myself." Not only is Marlowe's job as a private detective lonely (he has no loyal sidekick and sits alone in his car), but it's also pretty dangerous. And it's definitely not good for him.

    I parked, aired out the convertible, had a drink from my bottle, and sat. I didn't know what I was waiting for, but something told me to wait. Another army of sluggish minutes dragged by. (6.6)

    We've lost count of how many times Marlowe tells us he's having a drink by himself. It's a wonder he's sober enough to shoot straight.

    I didn't go near the Sternwood family. I went back to the office and sat in my swivel chair and tried to catch up on my foot-dangling. (21.1)

    Marlowe's sense of humor comes through in his remark here. He makes light of his boredom and sense of isolation, but beneath his witty sarcasm we can sense the deep-seated loneliness that comes with being a detective. Is Marlowe's sarcastic wit a coping mechanism to help him deal with his isolation? We certainly think so.

    I was thinking about going out to lunch and that life was pretty flat and that it would probably be just as flat if I took a drink and that taking a drink all alone at that time of day wouldn't be any fun anyway. (21.1)

    Marlowe's characteristic cynicism toward life seems to spiral out of control in this sentence. He starts off feeling depressed about the "flatness" of life, then realizes that even alcohol won't improve anything, and that worst of all, drinking alone before it's even lunchtime would be sinking to the lowest of lows. And yet, Marlowe still opens his bottle and takes a drink. Bleak, much?

    The coffee shop smell from next door came in at the windows with the soot but failed to make me hungry. So I got out my office bottle and took the drink and let my self-respect ride its own race. (21.18)

    Marlowe knows that he shouldn't drink first thing in the morning, but he disregards his own advice. He gives up his own self-respect, and yet he's still someone who adheres to his own personal moral code. So the question here is how do we reconcile Marlowe's alcoholism with his strong sense of principles when it comes to performing his job? Marlowe follows a strict moral code when he puts his life on the line for his client, and yet he also knowingly harms himself by constantly drinking on the job. Is this just a flaw in his character or does drinking allow him to better cope with the isolation of his line of business?

    She called me a filthy name.

    I didn't mind that. I didn't mind what she called me, what anybody called me. But this was the room I had to live. It was all I had in the way of a home. In it was everything that was mine, that had any association for me, any past, anything that took the place of a family. [...]

    I couldn't stand her in that room any longer. What she called me only reminded me of that. (24.39-41)

    Marlowe's rejection of Carmen's (naked!) advances may seem puzzling to some since we know that he complains about his isolation. But Marlowe is definitely the loner type. We can tell from the way he describes his apartment that he has no family and that he considers his bedroom as a sort of safe haven. So maybe Carmen's presence in this room is a threat to his privacy. Sure, he might find her attractive, but not attractive enough to break his solitude.

    I reached for my drink and drank it slowly. The apartment house door closed itself down below me. Steps tinkled on the quiet sidewalk. A car started up not far away. It rushed off into the night with a rough clashing of gears. I went back to the bed and looked down at it. The imprint of her head was still in the pillow, of her small corrupt body still on the sheets. I put my empty glass down and tore the bed to pieces savagely. (24.45)

    After Carmen leaves his apartment, Marlowe goes back to his usual solitary drinking. Check out the sounds described to emphasize Marlowe's sense of isolation: we hear the steps gradually fading away, then a car engine starting and disappearing in the night. Marlowe's act of savagely tearing apart his bed is yet another sign that he is determined to preserve the sanctity of his own private space, even if that means he'll be alone for the rest of his sorry life.

    I got up feeling sluggish and tired and stood looking out of the window, with a dark harsh taste of Sternwood still in my mouth. I was as empty of life as a scarecrow's pockets. (25.1)

    As the novel progresses, Marlowe becomes more and more disillusioned by his dealings with the Sternwood family. Here we have one of Chandler's characteristic similes (see the "Writing Style" section for more on this). What makes this simile so unusual isn't the image of pockets (we're used to pockets being empty), but rather the fact that it's a scarecrow's pockets. Why a scarecrow? Why not a pauper's or a homeless person's pockets? Well, just picture a solitary scarecrow standing in the middle of a vacant field, and ask yourself whether that image accurately captures the feeling of isolation and emptiness that Marlowe feels.

    Nobody came into the office. Nobody called me on the phone. It kept on raining. (25.84)

    Chandler keeps his sentences short and succinct here. And he repeats the word "nobody" two times in a row at the beginning of the sentence. Combine those two elements with the rain and you've got a recipe for a lonely dude on a lonely day.

    What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? (32.77)

    At the end of the novel, Marlowe contemplates the meaning of life and death. He comes to the conclusion that we're always alone, and that nothing really matters in life once we're dead. Yeah, kinda bleak.

  • Morality and Ethics

    "Vivian is spoiled, exacting, smart and quite ruthless. Carmen is a child who likes to pull wings off flies. Neither of them has any more moral sense than a cat. Neither have I. No Sternwood ever has." (2.50)

    These words are spoken by General Sternwood during his first conversation with Marlowe. From the first pages of the novel, we already get the sense that the Sternwood family is corrupt, and as Marlowe digs deeper into the family history, he only finds more evidence to confirm the Sternwoods' lack of morals.

    "The gun might have been planted—say by Brody, the actual killer."

    "It's physically possible," I said, "but morally impossible. It assumes too much coincidence and too much that's out of character for Brody and his girl […]. He was a crook, but not a killer type." (18.45-46)

    Here we get a glimpse into Marlowe's method of deduction. He's able to eliminate certain scenarios by drawing on what is morally and immorally possible in a given situation. Marlowe's strong sense of ethics allows him to make judgments on the extent to which those around him adhere to or depart from moral behavior.

    "What's a loogan?"

    "A guy with a gun."

    "Are you a loogan?"

    "Sure," I laughed. "But strictly speaking a loogan is on the wrong side of the fence."

    "I often wonder if there is a wrong side." (23.72-76)

    This conversation between Vivian and Marlowe is a witty play on words. Technically speaking, loogan is a slang word for a hooligan, hoodlum, or petty gangster. But here Marlowe defines a loogan more specifically as a "guy with a gun," and then quickly qualifies his answer by saying a loogan is on the "wrong side." But what exactly does it mean to be on the wrong side? As Vivian remarks, it's often very difficult in this novel to figure out where exactly to draw the line between right and wrong.

    "She's a grifter, shamus. I'm a grifter. We're all grifters. So we sell each other out for a nickel. Okay. See can you make me." He […] stared at me level-eyed, a funny little hard guy I could have thrown from home plate to second base. A small man in a big man's world. There was something I liked about him. (25.77)

    These words are spoken by Harry Jones to Marlowe. A grifter is someone who swindles you through deception or fraud, which brings up yet another key moral question in the book: is it unethical to sell someone out for your own self-interests? Keep in mind that the novel is set during the Depression, when people were hard-pressed for money, and couldn't be too choosy when it came to getting their hands on some. The mood of 1930s L.A. was one of desperation as individuals turned to crime because they had nothing left to lose. Even though Jones seems to be someone Marlowe would normally despise (Jones admits to being a grifter and cheating people out of money), yet why does Marlowe say that he liked Harry? What is about Harry that commands Marlowe's respect?

    "Well, you fooled him, Harry. […] You lied to him and you drank your cyanide like a little gentleman. You died like a poisoned rat, Harry, but you're no rat to me." (26.81)

    Marlowe expresses admiration here for Harry's noble death. Instead of ratting out Agnes, Harry protected her by giving out false information to Canino. In this case, lying and deception are seen in a morally good light. He even calls Harry a "little gentlemen."

    "I'm a copper […] Just a plain ordinary copper. Reasonably honest. As honest as you could expect a man to be in a world where it's out of style." (30.13)

    These words are spoken by Captain Gregory to Marlowe. Gregory seems to be one of the few honest cops left in L.A. What does this quote suggest about the state of the police in 1930s America? What does Gregory mean by "reasonably" honest? How can you measure the level of honesty?

    "I'd like to offer you your money back. It may mean nothing to you. It might mean something to me. […] It means I have refused payment for an unsatisfactory job." (30.58)

    Oh Marlowe. Why'd you have to go and be all Mr. Noble here? He could have just taken the money and peaced out, but instead he gives it back for a job-not-well-done. What's up with that? Does he think taking the cash will make him somehow corrupt? Guilty? Nasty like the rest?

    "I risk my whole future, the hatred of cops and of Eddie Mars and his pals, I dodge bullets and eat saps, […] I do all this for twenty-five bucks a day—and maybe just a little to protect what little pride a broken and sick old man has left in his blood." (32.57)

    Marlowe takes great pride in his work as a detective, and we can't help but think that a big reason for that is that he prioritizes his morality above, well, absolutely everything else. Otherwise, what would he have to be proud of?

    "I was playing for time. Just for time. I played the wrong way, of course." (32.63)

    Vivian says this to Marlowe at the end of the novel to explain the reason why she covered up Rusty's death. What does she mean by saying she "played the wrong way"? What makes her actions morally wrong? Does the fact that she hid the murder to protect her father excuse any of her actions?

    Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was. But the old man didn't have to be. He could lie quiet in his canopied bed, with his bloodless hands folded on the sheet, waiting. (32.77)

    At the end of the novel, Marlowe realizes that despite his efforts to remain morally pure, he's down there in the muck and the mire with the rest of these blobs. But is it really that simple?

  • Justice and Judgment

    It wasn't the law. They would have been there still, just about getting warmed up with their pieces of string and chalk and their cameras and dusting powders and their nickel cigars. They would have been very much there. (8.22)

    Marlowe observes that the cops haven't discovered that Geiger had been murdered. What is the tone of Marlowe's commentary on what the room would have looked like if the police had been there? Is it sincere or mocking? What's Marlowe's attitude toward the law?

    "You have to protect your father and your sister. You don't know what the police might turn up. It might be something they couldn't sit on" (11.54).

    Marlowe says this to Vivian when she comes to tell him about the blackmail scheme involving Carmen's nude photos. He believes that Vivian is avoiding telling the police about the blackmail because the cops might go digging into her family's past. But Marlowe himself is trying to "turn up" information about the Sternwoods. What is the difference between Marlowe's work as a private detective and the work that the police perform?

    "That kind of thinking is police business, Marlowe. If Geiger's death had been reported last night, the books might never have been moved from the store to Brody's apartment. The kid wouldn't have been led to Brody and wouldn't have killed him. Say Brody was living on borrowed time. His kind usually are. But a life is a life."

    "Right," I said. "Tell that to your coppers next time they shoot down some scared petty larceny crook running away up an alley with a stolen spare." (18.43-44)

    Oh, Shmoop smells a rivalry. Cronjager works for the law, but Marlowe's a private dick. Does that mean that Cronjager's trying to put Marlowe in his place by saying "that kind of thinking is police business"? And what's up with Marlowe's response—snarky much?

    "Grand Juries do ask those embarrassing questions sometimes—in a rather vain effort to find out just why cities are run as they are run." (18.67)

    Wilde says this in response to Marlowe's comment that the Grand Jury would want to know why the Hollywood police allowed Geiger's pornography racket to operate. Why does Wilde think that the jury's efforts would be in "vain"? What does it say about the American justice system if the D.A. doesn't have faith in the jury's ability to uncover the truth?

    "[…] As for the cover-up, I've been in the police business myself, as you know. They come a dime a dozen in any big city. Cops get very large and emphatic when an outsider tries to hide anything, but they do the same things themselves every other day, to oblige their friends or anybody with a little pull." (18.77)

    Here we find out that Marlowe used to be in the police department. He clearly has a very negative opinion about the morals of cops working in a big city. Why is corruption a bigger problem in large cities? Why is Marlowe so skeptical of the police's ability to ensure justice?

    "The law enforcement in this town is terrific. All through prohibition Eddie Mars' place was a night club and they had two uniformed men in the lobby every night—to see that the guests didn't bring their own liquor instead of buying it from the house." (23.66)

    Marlowe expresses his contempt for the law to Vivian after he protects her from being mugged at Eddie Mars' club. He's a "do-it-yourself" kind of guy. But hey, he's had to be.

    "Good-bye, copper, and wish me luck. I got a raw deal."

    "Like hell you did," I said, and walked away across the street to my own car. (27.7-8)

    This exchange between Agnes and Marlowe shows two completely opposite viewpoints on justice: Agnes thinks she's the one who got the short end of the stick, whereas Marlowe knows that Harry gave up his life protecting Agnes. True justice is never met since no one gets punished for murdering Harry.

    Three men dead, Geiger, Brody, and Harry Jones, and the woman went riding off in the rain with my two hundred in her bag and not a mark on her. (27.9)

    Typical Marlowe. His cynicism shines through here as he contemplates the lack of justice in a world where three men were dead, but the woman who knew all three men escapes unharmed.

    "Once outside the law you're all the way outside." (28.49)

    Marlowe says this about Eddie Mars in his conversation with Mona. Marlowe despises Mars' dishonesty, but we want to play devil's advocate here. If Marlowe suggests that once you work outside of the law, you've become corrupt, then what about his own job? Marlowe isn't exactly scrupulous about following all the rules when it comes to the law, so how do we explain the fact that Marlowe's work outside of the law is still just?

    "Being a copper I like to see the law win. I'd like to see the flashy well-dressed mugs like Eddie Mars spoiling their manicures in the rock quarry at Folsom […]. That's what I'd like. You and me both lived too long to think I'm likely to see it happen. Not in this town, not in any town half this size, in any part of this wide, green and beautiful U.S.A. We just don't run our country that way." (30.12)

    Captain Gregory talks to Marlowe about his work as a policeman. Gregory seems to be just as disillusioned as Marlowe. They both feel that there's a gap between justice and the law. Why doesn't the law always win? Why aren't the right criminals caught the way they should be?

  • Principles

    "You can't make much money in this trade, if you're honest. If you have a front, you're making money—or expecting to."

    "Oh—are you honest?" she asked and opened her bag. […]
    "Painfully." (11.10-11)

    Painfully? Really? Maybe Marlowe's talking about his wallet here. It seems like to be moral means to be lacking some serious cash. The more honest Marlowe is, the more painfully thin his wallet gets.

    She peeled her right glove off and bit her index finger at the first joint, looking at me with steady eyes. "I didn't come to see you about Owen. Do you feel yet that you can tell me what my father wanted to see you about?"

    "Not without his permission." (11.23-24)

    The fact that Marlowe refuses to give Vivian the scoop on her dad reveals his sense of loyalty to the General. But why does he feel that sense of loyalty in the first place? Is it because he likes the general, or is it more of a professional code kind of thing?

    "You're the hardest guy to get anything out of. You don't even move your ears." (11.62)

    Vivian expresses her frustration at Marlowe's silence. Why is Marlowe's discretion an important sign of his strong sense of principles?

    "Sure you can't help me on this?"

    I liked his putting it that way. It let me say no without actually lying. (11.73-74)

    Ohls asks Marlowe for information on the Sternwoods, but his way of asking for help allows Marlowe to "say no without actually lying." As we all know, there's heaps of lying and deception going on throughout the novel, and Marlowe's defining characteristic is his honesty.

    "Have you told me your story complete in all relevant details?"

    "I left out a couple of personal matters. […]"

    "Why" Wilde asked quietly.

    "Because my client is entitled to that protection, short of anything but a Grand Jury. I have a license to operate as a private detective. I suppose that word 'private' has some meaning." (18.56-59)

    Here we understand why Marlowe chooses to work as a private detective rather than as a cop. He values personal "privacy" and believes in the importance of protecting his client's privacy. Cops? Not so much.

    "What are you getting for it all?"

    "Twenty-five dollars a day and expenses."

    […]

    "And for that amount of money you're willing to get yourself in Dutch with half the law enforcement of this county?"

    "I don't like it," I said. "But what the hell am I to do? I'm on a case. I'm selling what I have to sell to make a living. What little guts and intelligence the Lord gave me and willingness to get pushed around in order to protect a client. It's against my principles to tell as much as I've told tonight, without consulting the General." (18.77-81)

    Marlowe emphasizes his loyalty to his client and his dedication to protecting the General's privacy. Why is Marlowe willing to work for so little pay and to put himself on the bad side of half the police force? Can we really just chalk that up to his principles, or is there something else at work? Hey, maybe he's just stubborn.

    The smart thing for me to do was to take another drink and forget the whole mess.

    That being the obviously smart thing to do, I called Eddie Mars and told him I was coming down to Las Olindas that evening to talk to him. That was how smart I was. (21.23-24)

    By this point of the novel, Marlowe has already solved the case of the blackmail, so why doesn't he just close the case and move on? Well, we know that Marlowe is fond of General Sternwood and it bugs Marlowe that he can't figure out what happened to Rusty. Maybe he can't let sleeping dogs lie because his dedication to the truth compels him to keep digging into the Sternwoods' past.

    Eddie Mars: "I hear you got the information already. I felt I owed you a fee. I'm used to paying for nice treatment."

    "I didn't drive down here to make a touch. I get paid for what I do. Not much by your standards, but I make out. One customer at a time is a good rule." (21.45-46)

    Marlowe again sticks to his principles by refusing to take Mars' money, which really highlights the difference between these two. But it also points to an interesting question: is Mars trying to thank Marlowe for his help, or is Mars trying to buy Marlowe's loyalty?

    "It's a question of professional pride. […] I'm working for your father. He's a sick man, very frail, very helpless. He sort of trusts me not to pull any stunts." (24.27)

    When Marlowe finds Carmen naked in his bed, he rejects her by saying that it's a matter of "professional pride." Marlowe's professional ethic compels him to remain loyal to the General's interests, even (or especially) when it seems unnecessary or futile.

    "You don't know what I have to go through or over or under to do your job for you. I do it my way. I do my best to protect you and I may break a few rules, but I break them in your favor." (30.72)

    Marlowe defends his actions to the General by saying that he always acts on behalf of his client's best interests. Does Marlowe ever break the rules for his own self-interests? Can you think of a moment in which Marlowe behaves just like everyone else?

  • Men and Masculinity

    "And I don't like your manners."

    "I'm not crazy about yours," I said. "[…] I don't mind if you don't like my manners. They're pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings. But don't waste your time trying to cross-examine me." (3.19-20)

    This snarky exchange between Vivian and Marlowe is a classic example of Marlowe's gruff manner of speaking. He definitely plays the part of the tough guy pretty well. His wisecracking dialogue becomes a weapon for him to control the situation by not allowing Vivian to cross-examine him. And he won't let her get close to him either.

    "So you're a private detective," [Vivian] said. "I didn't know they really existed, except in books. Or else they were greasy little men snooping around hotels." (3. 4)

    Greasy? Harsh! We'd interpret this dialogue, but we'd much rather let Lauren Bacall do it for us.

    I had my horn-rimmed sunglasses on. I put my voice high and let a bird twitter in it. "Would you happen to have a Ben Hur 1860?" (4.6)

    What a bizarre Big Sleep moment. Is Marlowe playing gay? And why might he be doing that?

    She laughed suddenly and sharply and went halfway through the door, then turned her head to say coolly: "You're as cold-blooded a beast as I ever met, Marlowe." (11.73)

    Vivian comments on Marlowe's coldness, another attribute of the macho tough guy who won't be ordered around by anyone. But is Marlowe really cold-blooded? We don't think it's that simple. Maybe he seems hard-hearted because he has to remain detached in order to do his job.

    His voice was the elaborately casual voice of the tough guy in pictures. Pictures have made them all like that. (14.20)

    This is a reference to Hollywood movies, which had become extremely popular at the time. Marlowe mocks the pretentious attitude of Joe Brody, who is trying to imitate the way tough guys are portrayed on the big screen. Which is pretty ironic when you consider how many men—famous or not—have emulated Philip Marlowe's particular brand of toughness since he appeared on the page and on the screen.

    "Men have been shot for practically nothing. The first time we met I told you I was a detective. Get it through your lovely head. I work at it, lady. I don't play at it." (23.142)

    Marlowe snaps at Vivian in his typical gruff way when she refuses to tell him what Eddie Mars has on her. What is it about Marlowe's speech that makes it particularly masculine and aggressive? For one thing, Marlowe's wisecracks and witticisms become a way for him to control situations and assert his authority. His short, terse sentences sound blunt to the point of rudeness, making it tough for the other folks to respond with equal oomph.

    You can have a hangover from other things than alcohol. I had one from women. Women made me sick. (25.1)

    Geez, Marlowe. Misogynistic, much? Many macho men are also known to be playboys or womanizers, but Marlowe is neither. He rejects sexual advances and steers clear of women as much as possible. What can be said about the relationship between masculinity and sexuality in Chandler's portrayal of Marlowe?

    He was a small man, not more than five feet three […]. He had tight brilliant eyes that wanted to look hard, but looked as hard as oysters on a half shell. (25.12)

    At first glance, Harry Jones doesn't seem like he'd be able to play the tough guy act. For one thing, he's just too short to pull off the part. He sure does try his hardest to show that he's tough (but he seems to fail at it here). Notice Chandler's use of simile to describe Jones' eyes. The image of "oysters on a half shell" is a classic example of Marlowe's sarcastic witticisms. (He's of course saying that Jones' eyes don't look hard or intimidating at all. Rather, they look all soft and mushy like oysters.)

    He moved his dark eyes up and down slowly and then glanced at his fingernails one by one, holding them up against the light and studying them with care, as Hollywood has taught it should be done. (27.38)

    Marlowe refers to Hollywood and the movie industry in his criticism of an unnamed man's (one of Canino's hitmen) attempt to imitate what he sees on the big screen. What does Marlowe think about Hollywood and the people who emulate the actors and actresses they see in the movies? Is Marlowe intimidated by this unnamed man's attempt to look like the nonchalant tough guy?

    "I'm a very smart guy. I haven't a feeling or a scruple in the world. All I have the itch for is money." (32.57)

    Marlowe sarcastically agrees with Vivian's accusation that all he cares about is money. He pretends to play the hardboiled detective who has no scruple in the world, but we all know by now that he's an honest guy fighting in a dishonest world.

  • Wealth

    I was everything a well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars. (1.1)

    From the very first paragraph of The Big Sleep, we know that money is going to play a huge role. Even though we don't know much about Marlowe yet, we know that he's a hard man to budge. And yet money influences his actions here, changing the way he would normally dress.

    "It may cost you a little money, besides what you pay me. And of course it won't get you anything. Sugaring them never does. You're already listed on their book of nice names." (2.63)

    Marlowe explains to the General that it's possible to get Geiger off his back, but that it may cost some dough. Yep, that sounds about right. In the gritty world of 1930s L.A., money will get you pretty far. In fact, it seems like the only thing that will get you anywhere.

    On this lower level faint and far off I could just barely see some of the old wooden derricks of the oilfield from which the Sternwoods had made their money. (3.42)

    The oilfields represent the corrupting power of money. Did the Sternwoods have to get their hands dirty to get so wealthy? Is it possible to acquire that much money honestly?

    A man named Joe Brody had received five thousand dollars from General Sternwood to stop playing with Carmen and find some other little girl to play with. It could be the same Joe Brody. I felt like giving odds on it. (10.22)

    Blackmailing schemes abound in The Big Sleep. Marlowe lives in a world where everyone's out to make a quick buck and it doesn't care how they get it. It's interesting that Marlowe uses a gambling metaphor ("giving odds on it") in the last sentence. He feels that his chances are good that he has found the same Joe Brody. Gambling will later become another important sign of the corrupting influence of money.

    "You don't put on much of a front," she [Vivian] said.

    […]

    "Neither do the Pinkertons," I said. "You can't make much money at this trade, if you're honest. If you have a front, you're making money—or expect to." (11.10-12)

    Marlowe's dedication to honest means that he doesn't expect to make much money. Only people who "put up a front" are well off, such as Geiger who fronts his porn racket as a bookstore. Are there any instances in the novel when money is used honestly? No seriously—we're asking.

    She crossed her legs and lit another cigarette. "Yes, I like roulette. All the Sternwoods like losing games, like roulette and marrying men that walk out on them […]. The Sternwoods have money. All it has bought them is a rain check." (11.45)

    Vivian is a pretty big gambler. She sounds slightly cynical here when she says that the only thing the Sternwoods' money has gotten them is a "rain check." She seems to be suggesting that their money doesn't actually buy them anything concrete. Their money only ensures that they'll get something at a future unknown date. Yeah it sounds pretty confusing and ambiguous to us, too. But her comment here makes more sense when we get to the end of the novel and realize that she's been trying to buy time. She needed time to cover up Rusty's murder so she bribed Eddie Mars to help her. Classy.

    A pretty, spoiled and not very bright little girl who had gone very, very wrong, and nobody was doing anything about it. To hell with the rich. They made me sick. (12.11)

    Marlowe's contempt for the rich is clear from the first paragraph of the novel. In this passage, Marlowe is referring to Carmen, whose wealth is one of the root causes of her corruption. It's also important to notice that Marlowe is contemptuous of those who don't do anything when they see something is wrong. They're just as bad as the rest of 'em.

    "First off Regan carried fifteen grand, packed it in his clothes all the time. Real money, they tell me. Not just a top card and a bunch of hay. That's a lot of jack but this Regan might be the boy to have it around so he could take it out and look at it when somebody was looking at him." (20.34)

    Captain Gregory provides Marlowe with some background info on Regan. He obviously married into a very rich family. What kind of image do we get of Regan when we read that he liked to carry wads of cash around and flaunt it when somebody looked at him?

    "We've done all we could, brother. If he [General Sternwood] wants to put out a reward and spend some money, we might get results. The city don't give me the kind of money it takes." (20.53)

    Captain Gregory expresses disappointment in not being able to help Marlowe more. He also seems to have the same sense of futility as Marlowe since he knows that he doesn't have the resources to do what it takes to get results. Money also appears to be necessary to keep the law functioning properly. But there's not enough of it to go around.

    "I got five hundred from your father, which I didn't ask for, but he can afford to give it to me. I can get another thousand for finding Mr. Rusty, if I could find him. Now you offer me fifteen grand. That makes me a big shot. […] What are you offering it to me for? Can I go on being a son of a bitch, or do I have to become a gentleman?" (32.57)

    Vivian tries to buy Marlowe's silence by offering him fifteen grand, but at the same time she also calls him "a son of a bitch." Marlowe sarcastically points out that her motives, not his, are morally suspect. He has no intention of accepting any money, and sarcastically lists all the reasons why he's such a "son of a bitch." But this list reveals that Marlowe has only been working in the General's own best interests, and that in fact all of his actions have been "gentlemanly" and morally upright.

  • Violence

    His [Geiger's] glass eye shone brightly up at me and was by far the most life-like thing about him. At a glance none of the three shots I heard had missed. He was very dead. (7. 5)

    Geiger's body is the first death we witness in the novel. Marlowe has stumbled upon a gruesome scene of violence, but what catches our eye are the tone and pacing of the sentences. The curt and matter-of-fact tone of Marlowe's voice suggests that he's used to seeing dead bodies. No shock here, folks.

    "Drunk, hell," the plainsclothesman said. "The hand throttle's set halfway down and the guy's been sapped on the side of the head. Ask me and I'll call it murder." (9.40)

    Owen Taylor's death is the second act of violence in the novel, but the cause of his death remains unknown. We don't know whether someone murdered him, or whether he committed murder due to his unrequited love for Carmen. Why does Chandler decide to keep Taylor's death unresolved?

    The giggles stopped dead, but she didn't mind the slap any more than last night. Probably all her boy friends got around to slapping her sooner or later. I could understand how they might. (12.48)

    Marlowe does his fair share of roughing up women. He slaps Carmen around several times during the course of the novel, and also gets pretty rough with Agnes. Is his occasional violence toward uncalled for? Does this uncouth behavior affect the way we see him as a modern day knight figure? We certainly think so.

    No excited neighbors hung out of doorways. A small gun had gone off and broken a pane of glass, but noises like that don't mean much any more. (15.30)

    Violence has become so commonplace that people no longer notice when they hear a gunshot. Yikes. No wonder Marlowe's fighting a losing battle.

    He wanted to fight. He shot at me like a plane from a catapult, reaching for my knees in a diving tackle. I sidestepped and reached for his neck and took it into a chancery. (17.16)

    Marlowe gets into a pretty violent fistfight here with Carol Lundgren. This is only one of many examples of Chandler resorting to violence, but it's one of the most graphic.

    It was a nice write-up. It gave the impression that Geiger had been killed the night before, that Brody had been killed about an hour later, and that Captain Cronjager had solved both murders while lighting a cigarette. The suicide of Taylor made Page One of Section II. (19.38)

    If violence is a symptom of the depravity of modern society, what's even worse is the covering up of violent crimes. Marlowe is disgusted when he realizes that all the newspapers have reported Brody's and Geiger's deaths inaccurately, and he knows it's possible that the newspapers have been bought off.

    I heard a sharp cough. Then a violent retching. There was a small thud on the floor, as if a thick glass had fallen. My fingers curled against my raincoat. (26.47)

    Harry's death is the most tragic in the novel since he died protecting Agnes. It's also the only death where the victim is killed by deception (rather than a bullet). Instead of being shot to death like Geiger and Brody, Harry is tricked into sharing a drink with Canino. But the drink is poisoned. Check out the pacing of the sentences and the way the suspense is built up. Marlowe hears a series of disturbing noises: coughing, retching, thud, glass shattering. All culminating in the image of Marlowe's clenched fingers. That sent chills down our spines, how bout you?

    Perhaps it would have been nice to allow him another shot or two, just like a gentleman of the old school. But his gun was still up and I couldn't wait any longer. Not long enough to be a gentleman of the old school. I shot him four times. (29.17)

    In this scene, Marlowe wants to do the honorable thing and give Canino a few more seconds to turn around before shooting him. But he realizes that he can't afford to be like a gentleman or knight of olden days. Modern society no longer observes rules of chivalry, so Marlowe knows that it's kill or be killed.

    She said bitterly: "Did you have to kill him?"

    I stopped laughing as suddenly as I had started. She went behind me and unlocked the handcuffs.

    "Yes," she said softly. "I suppose you did." (29.22-24)

    Mona's one of the few characters other than Marlowe who seems to be not a terrible person. She not only remains faithful to her husband, but expresses bitterness when she sees death. Mona didn't even like Canino (she tricked Canino into shooting at the wrong target to enable Marlowe to escape). But Mona still wishes that Marlowe didn't have to kill Canino, which means it's also a moment of moral ambiguity for our guy. It's possible he could have gotten out of this situation without killing Canino, and that makes (and him) question his decision.

    The gun pointed at my chest. Her hand seemed to be quite steady. The hissing sound grew louder and her face had the scraped bone look. Aged, deteriorated, become animal, and not a nice animal. (31.47)

    Carmen's attempt to kill Marlowe is the final piece to the puzzle as Marlowe realizes that she was the one behind Rusty's death. And his description of her is as chilling as that revelation.

  • Sexuality and Sexual Identity

    [S]he lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theater curtain. I was to get to know that trick. That was supposed to make me roll over on my back with all four paws in the air.

    "Are you a prize fighter?" she asked, when I didn't. (1.14-15)

    Carmen's attempt to flirt with Marlowe doesn't seem to be having much of an effect. Despite the fact that Carmen is extremely beautiful, Marlowe doesn't allow himself to be seduced. Smart move, Phil.

    She tilted towards me on her toes. She fell straight back into my arms. I had to catch her or let her crack her head on the tessellated floor. (1.22)

    Ah, the classic damsel in distress routine. Pretty damsel starts to feel lightheaded. Pretty damsel faints. Knight in shining armor catches her right before she falls to the ground. Except this is all turned on its head when we learn that Carmen's no chaste damsel. And Marlowe, though he may catch her here, is not exactly a perfect knight, either.

    She approached me with enough sex appeal to stampede a businessman's lunch and tilted her head to finger a stray, but not very stray, tendril of softly glowing hair. (4.3)

    The blonde bombshell in this passage is Agnes (before we realize it's Agnes—she's just the unnamed cashier girl at Geiger's bookstore at this point). Women in this novel are portrayed as sexually alluring and dangerous. But Marlowe's reactions are always the same. He doesn't fall for their feminine charms. Notice also Marlowe's use of sarcastic witticisms to describe (and subtly mock) Agnes' "sex appeal."

    I looked her over without either embarrassment or ruttishness. As a naked girl she was not there in that room at all. She was just a dope. To me she was always just a dope. (7.4)

    When Marlowe finds a naked Carmen at the scene of Geiger's murder, he doesn't seem to be at all affected by her nudity. We know that Carmen is an attractive girl, but Marlowe tells us that he doesn't feel at all ruttish (that just means sexually aroused). We don't know whether to be impressed by his fortitude or worried at his cold-bloodedness.

    I took my dark glasses off and tapped them delicately on the inside of my left wrist. If you can weigh a hundred and ninety pounds and look like a fairy, I was doing my best. (10.5)

    At Geiger's bookstore, Marlowe pretends to be gay by speaking and gesturing in an effeminate manner. A lot of critics have used this scene to make a claim that the novel is homophobic. What do you think?

    The place was horrible by daylight. The Chinese junk on the walls, the rug, the fussy lamps, the teakwood stuff, the sticky riot of colors, the totem pole, the flagon of ether and laudanum—all this in the daytime had a stealthy nastiness, like a fag party. (12.10)

    This description of Geiger's house is one of the reasons critics have criticized Chandler for his negative portrayal of homosexuality. Geiger's living room is described as a depraved space with strange smells and a pervasive "nastiness." But later in the novel, we see that Carol has laid out Geiger's body on his bed in a ritualized fashion, as if to pay tribute to him. In this sense, the homosexual relationship between Geiger and Carol appears to be one of genuine love.

    "Who said I had a key?"

    "Don't kid me, son. The fag gave you one. […] He was like Caesar, a husband to women and a wife to men." (17.10-11)

    Marlowe tries to get Lundgren to give him the key to Geiger's house. The last sentence in this passage is ambiguous, but Marlowe seems to be suggesting that Geiger was bisexual. We don't know for sure whether Marlowe was only making up information to test Lundgren's reactions.

    "He was afraid of the police, of course, being what he is, and he probably thought it a good idea to have the body hidden until he had removed his effects from the house." (18.47)

    Marlowe is talking about Carol in this passage, suggesting that because Carol is gay, he was afraid of the police finding out. What is the effect of Marlowe's exhibition of homophobia in this scene? In the hardboiled world of L.A., the need to assert one's masculinity is a key way of attaining power. What happens to the dynamics of power when issues of homosexuality are introduced into the picture?

    "That's the way it is. Kissing is nice, but your father didn't hire me to sleep with you." (23.135)

    Marlowe allows Vivian to kiss him, and he does seem to enjoy it. But Vivian's sexual allure only goes so far. Marlowe refuses to let her off the hook, continuing to ask her what Mars has on her. Vivian is accustomed to using her sexuality as a weapon to get what she wants, so she's of course miffed that Marlowe won't play along.

    "She was in my bed—naked. I threw her out on her ear. I guess maybe Regan did the same thing to her sometime. But you can't do that to Carmen." (32.50)

    Most folks would think that Marlowe's a pretty lucky guy to come home and find a beautiful woman naked in his bed. But Marlowe is unmoved by Carmen's bold visit. It's not that he doesn't find her attractive (he comments on her beauty all the time), but he also plays the role of the chaste knight who turns down sexual temptations.