As a private detective (emphasis on the word "private"), Marlowe leads a very lonely life. He keeps his own company and can usually be found whiling away the hours at the bottom of a bottle. Sure, we can chalk up Marlowe's alone time to the fact that he's chosen a particularly solitary line of work, but we can't help but wonder if it isn't a symptom of Chandler's America as a whole. 1930s Los Angeles with its murderers and blackmailers is primarily a city of distrust where each person has to look out for his or her own selfish interests, before finally succumbing to The Big Sleep.
Marlowe chose the loneliest job in the universe because he was a lonely guy to begin with.
Marlowe's solitary lifestyle is a way of distancing himself from the corruption he sees every day.
With corrupt criminals running rampant in the streets of Los Angeles, Marlowe faces a daunting task to preserve his own sense of morality. Nearly every one he meets seems to have some secret to hide, and even Marlowe isn't able to keep his hands completely clean. But he really, really wants to. He's got that moral code of his, and in the end, what depresses Marlowe the most is how low he has to go to stick to it.
Marlowe's desire to remain entirely moral is nothing but a pipe dream because he lives in a world that no longer upholds standard values of ethics. He's doomed to fail.
The Big Sleep can be considered a moral critique in its portrayal of the corruption of 1930s American society.
According to Marlowe, there is a huge difference between law and justice. As someone with a strong personal conscience, Marlowe feels that the law often is just not up to snuff when it comes to bringing the bad guys to justice. For one thing, Five-Os, according to Chandler (and Marlowe) are totally corruptible. Policemen accept bribes and dole out false information. And for another, in The Big Sleep, sometimes working outside the law is just more effective. For Marlowe, law breaking isn't necessarily the same thing as being immoral, especially if bending the rules allows him to reach justice.
Marlowe considers himself to be a modern-day knight fighting for justice, and yet he is willing to break the law to find the truth. Double standard, much?
Marlowe has to break the law every now and then because the cops are breaking it, too. That makes the law pretty worthless, so he'd rather just serve justice instead.
Despite being a hardboiled tough guy, Marlowe has his own set of principles that he sticks to firmly. Marlowe sees himself as a modern-day knight, following a code of chivalry in a fallen society that no longer knows the meaning of integrity and honesty. In a depraved city where everyone is out to make (or steal) a quick buck, Marlowe remains underpaid and even refuses money when he feels he hasn't performed his job satisfactorily. Even though he realizes that his efforts are mostly futile, and will only end in The Big Sleep, Marlowe isn't afraid to admit when he's wrong and this honesty with himself enables him to preserve his own sense of dignity.
Marlowe's principles do nothing but stand between him and solving the case. If he'd gotten down and dirty sooner, this case would have been closed ages ago.
Marlowe should uphold the law, no matter what. The fact that he breaks it now and again just means he's just as bad as the rest.
Most of the male characters in The Big Sleep like to think of themselves as macho. There are constant fistfights, arguments, and shootouts that arise out of this sense of challenged masculinity. They talk tough, hit hard, and never apologize. If we're to take Chandler's view, that's pretty much a requirement for surviving in 1930s L.A. The streets are mean, so the men must be meaner.
The men in The Big Sleep are forced to talk tough and act tough because it's the only way to survive in the gritty streets of L.A.
Marlowe's tough guy exterior hides an inner romanticism that he hides from the rest of the world.
Money talks in The Big Sleep. Well, not literally. But if you have a lot of money in this novel that pretty much guarantees you all the power and influence you want. The Sternwood family is the epitome of the wealth = power equation: their money comes from oil wells, and various members of the family succeed in using this wealth to buy what they want. But money also corrupts. And that's is why Marlowe not only despises the filthy rich, but also prefers being poor and underpaid if it means he doesn't have to compromise on his own morals.
It's all about the benjamins, baby. Money is the driving force behind the criminal activities throughout the novel, from the blackmailing schemes to the various murders.
Marlowe attempts to preserve his own integrity and honesty by living modestly, yet he still finds himself somewhat attracted to the life of the rich.
A detective story without a dash of violence for flavor would be pretty bland, and The Big Sleep is definitely not lacking in the spicy action department. Fistfights, shootouts, bloody corpses—all the bases are covered. In the end, we realize that violence is the inevitable result of the total moral depravity going on in society. These tough guys only have a few options when it comes to getting their way, and violence is often their method of choice.
Violence isn't only a man thing in The Big Sleep. Carmen has proven herself to be just as violent as all the tough guys.
Marlowe's use of violence during his own investigation shows that his high-minded principles are really just a bunch of codswallop. He's no different than the rest of the tough guys.
Sexuality is a weapon in The Big Sleep. From Vivian's femme fatalish ways to Carmen's aggressive sexual advances, it's clear that women here are using their sexuality to achieve their goals—however sketchy they may be. It probably works on most men, but Marlowe manages to resist their advances, proving that his asexuality can be an asset, too.
The female characters in The Big Sleep use their sexuality to exercise power in the novel, but Marlowe appears to be the only one who doesn't fall for their womanly wiles.
Chandler shows us that when women try to use their sexuality as a tool to control men, they're doomed to fail.