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The Big Sleep

Raymond Chandler

Important Quotations Explained

Chapters 31–32

Key Facts

I was wearing my powder-blue suit... I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

Philip Marlowe, the protagonist of The Big Sleep, thinks this in the very first paragraph of the novel. The passage is an important signifier of mood and tone: its phrasing and word choice are typical of Marlowe's speaking style and of Chandler's writing style. These lines also point to the fact that Marlowe's clean and sober appearance is not a regular occurrence—in fact, it may not be a regular occurrence for anyone in the novel. However, it is of utmost significance that Marlowe is willing to look a certain way because he is "calling on four million dollars." This opening paragraph places importance on money and sets the stage for murders and crimes that will be committed for money alone.

Vivian is spoiled, exacting, smart and quite ruthless. Carmen is a child who likes to pull wings off flies. Neither of them has anymore moral sense than a cat. Neither have I. No Sternwood ever had...

General Sternwood says this to Philip Marlowe in the opening chapter of The Big Sleep, during their first meeting. The meeting takes place in the Sternwood greenhouse, the steamy interior of which gives a foreboding air to what will be a "hot" case. The greenhouse contains the deceptively beautiful orchids, which closely parallel Sternwood's deceptively beautiful daughters. General Sternwood is not completely fooled by his daughters' beauty, but he does not realize that, like the orchids, they give off a "rotten" perfume. The Indeed, the Sternwood daughters, especially Carmen, are much more wicked than they appear.

Furthermore, this passage points to the fact that Sternwood himself is not completely moral. Honorably, however, he does not pretend to be something he is not, although perhaps he does so only because he is dying and therefore does not feel he has time to hide behind façades anymore. In the end, Marlowe defends Sternwood and protects him by not divulging the entire truth uncovered by his investigation. Marlowe prefers to allow the General to remain in ignorance, in a kind of subdued ignorant bliss, just as one remains in death, where the General himself will soon be.

She's a grifter, shamus. I'm a grifter. We're all grifters. So we sell each other out for a nickel...

Harry Jones says these words to Marlowe near the end of Chapter 25. He describes the mood of 1930s Los Angeles and the position of many during the period in which The Big Sleep was written. The novel reflects the time in which it was written—the Great Depression—conveying a tone tinged with 1930s pessimism. In any case, this passage describes an entire breed of criminal present during that time. It speaks not of the thoroughly evil Eddie Mars nor the crazed Carmen, the smart and conniving Vivian nor the corrupt General Sternwood, nor of the crooked cops—rather, it describes the kind of criminal closer to the mold of Agnes Lozelle and Harry Jones: criminals because they have nothing left to lose, because they have nowhere else to turn. In evoking such a character type, Chandler creates adds to the seedy mood and cynical tone of The Big Sleep.

Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn't a game for knights...

Marlowe says this to himself in Chapter 24 when Carmen is lying naked in his bed, when he is forced to call upon his chivalry once again and get her dressed and home. These lines point out how out of place Marlowe is in a world dominated by kings, queens, and other "pieces of chess"—other people who are richer, more powerful, and sneakier. Chandler is telling us that even a knight has his moments of doubt in the world of The Big Sleep. When Marlowe kills Canino, for instance, Marlowe says he did not give Canino long enough "to be a gentleman of the old school"—in other words, he could not wait that long to kill Canino. Perhaps Marlowe says such a thing because he knows that, in such a dangerous world, knights are not valued and they do not always win. Marlowe knows he has to kill Canino; this is, then, perhaps the only scene in which Marlowe takes off his knightly armor and fights like a man of the streets.

You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that, oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was...

Marlowe thinks this at the very end of the novel, the passage that gives the novel its title. These words point to a sort of salvation that comes in death and that is possible in death alone, while at the same time incriminating those who are alive—such as Marlowe—just by the very fact that they are alive. It points to the fact that the phantom character of Rusty Regan has implicitly remained untarnished in image for the very reason that he is dead and lying in an oil sump. Not only do we not have a chance to judge Regan, but Regan himself does not care what kind of "dirt" surrounds and engulfs him. He does not have to care any more about the "dirt" that abounds in the city, in the characters, in the novel, because he is saved through death—or rather, finally at peace and resting in death. So too will the old General be at peace, dying before he has to learn the truth uncovered by Marlowe's investigation. We feel sympathy for the General precisely because he is dying, and, fearing death, we project that sympathy upon the General. However, at the same time, that same death is something Marlowe feels to be a release of sorts. If there is any optimism in The Big Sleep, it comes, ironically, in the form of death, a gentle death that is like sleep.

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