Study Guide

The Big Sleep Justice and Judgment

By Raymond Chandler

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?