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.
Questions About Morality and Ethics
Is it possible to decide between what's right and wrong in the world of The Big Sleep? Are there gray areas where issues of morality are ambiguous?
How does Marlowe attempt to remain honest and morally upright in a corrupt society? Does he succeed or fail? How can you tell?
Does Marlowe remain ethically pure, or does he have to make choices that compromise his morality? What makes you say so?
Which characters in the novel are moral or immoral? How do you determine whether someone is on the right side or the wrong side, and is that even possible?
Chew on This
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.