Study Guide

The Big Sleep Sexuality and Sexual Identity

By Raymond Chandler

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.