Study Guide

The Big Sleep Men and Masculinity

By Raymond Chandler

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.