The Big Sleep
The ambience in the Cypress Club is dark and sultry, not glitzy like other spots in Hollywood. Nonetheless, it is beautiful, as signs of its previous state as a ballroom show through. Vivian Sternwood is playing roulette and bidding high—so high that the croupier does not want to allow her to place her bet. Eddie Mars is called in. Vivian wants to play everything she has, $6,000. Mars places his wallet on the table and tells the croupier to cover the bet with Mars's own money. Vivian wins. Mars, seemingly unfazed, returns to his office.
As Vivian collects her winnings and belongings and gets ready to leave, Marlowe exits. Outside, Marlowe sees something in the dark. It is an incredibly foggy night. He hears a man cough and realizes that the man is wearing a mask. Marlowe then waits behind a tree to calculate his next move, to see what this masked man is up to.
Marlowe hears the steps of a woman approaching. The masked man jumps out and holds the woman up at gunpoint. The woman is Vivian Sternwood, and the masked man wants the money she has just won at the roulette table. Marlowe comes out from behind the tree, manages to surprise the masked man, and takes the man's gun from him. Marlowe tells him to go ahead and leave; he will not say anything if the man in the mask does not either. Vivian thanks Marlowe sarcastically and asks him what he is doing at the Cypress Club. Marlowe responds that he had gone to see Mars to find out why Mars thought he was looking for Regan.
The two walk over to Larry Cobb, the Man who had been Mrs. Regan's escort for the night. Cobb is very drunk in the car garage. One of the Cypress Club workers promises to call Cobb's home and have him picked up. Marlowe agrees to take Vivian home. She seems nervous while they walk toward the car in the fog, as if the holdup has just hit her.
They stop by a drugstore and drink coffee, which Marlowe laces with rye. Marlowe tells Vivian she has "wicked eyes." He asks her what it is that Mars has on her, what he knows about her. Vivian says that Mars probably sent the masked man merely to recover the money she just won at Mars's expense. The conversation continues back in the car. Vivian asks Marlowe to drive down to the beach club because she wants to see the water. She throws herself at him, and they kiss.
Marlowe remains focused, however; even in the heat of the moment he has not forgotten what he is after. He again asks Vivian what Eddie Mars has on her, and she becomes upset. Marlowe tells her he believes the holdup was all an act—an act possibly staged for Marlowe's "benefit." Again, the two end their conversation on a negative note. Marlowe drops Vivian off at her house.
Marlowe returns to his apartment and notices the scent of a woman's perfume in the air. He realizes that Carmen Sternwood is lying naked in his bed; the manager has let her in. She had shown the manager Marlowe's card, which she had stolen from Vivian, and had claimed that Marlowe wanted her to wait for him in his apartment. Marlowe, upon seeing Carmen, walks over to a chessboard and plays his knight while Carmen continues to giggle in bed. The sound makes him think of "rats behind the wainscoting."
Marlowe refuses Carmen's advances and tells her to get dressed. She ignores him and continues to giggle. He looks down at his chessboard and sees that the move he played with his knight was a wrong move. He takes back the move and thinks to himself: "Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn't a game for knights." Carmen becomes upset when Marlowe continues to refuse her and continues to tell her to get dressed and go home. Finally, she leaves.
A number of the novel's themes and motifs resurface in this section. First, the eyes resurface. The Sternwood portrait's dark eyes now belong to Vivian, as Marlowe tells her to her face that she has wicked eyes. Here, Vivian appears conniving and also possibly wickeder than we have previously thought her. If, as Marlowe believes, it is true that the holdup was merely an act for Marlowe's "benefit" staged by Vivian and Mars, we see that the plot is more complicated and twisted than we thought. To use Marlowe's own phrase, there are "rats behind the wainscoting."
Vivian also mirrors the casino at the Cypress Club, as both are described in a manner that implies that something lies beneath the surface. The Cypress Club is a seedy place in many ways, but the wooden beauty of its old ballroom shows through, a reminder of what the place once was. Vivian, in much the same way, appears beautiful, but her eyes hide what lies within. Indeed, both Vivian and Carmen show themselves to be evil temptresses and cruel seductresses. This is precisely the woman that will become a staple of later film noir: the beautiful woman no one can trust.
Furthermore, the knight motif is played out once again, this time with obvious symbolism. The foreshadowing of the stained-glass panel comes up again when Marlowe, for the second time, in some sense "rescues" the naked Carmen. The knight is again rescuing the damsel, this time from herself. In chivalrous fashion, he refuses to take advantage of her, and is even in many ways disgusted by her. The chessboard and the knight he plays upon it become obvious symbols. Again, we are faced with the plight of the modern knight, emphasized by Marlowe's comment that knights have no meaning in the game. Despite his lack of idealism, Marlowe nonetheless does not take advantage of Carmen, just as he has not, earlier, fallen to the temptations of Vivian.
Despite Marlowe's seeming nobility, Chandler unequivocally illustrates that his character is human. In the same chapter in which he describes Marlowe as "knightly," Chandler also makes him seem almost savage. Chapter 24 ends with Marlowe's frustrated aggression, as he rips the bed sheets to shreds. This action shows Marlowe's strange, pent violence towards women that is illustrated later when Marlowe says, "Women make me sick." Though these lapses put Marlowe's nobility in question, we must remember that it is likely Chandler is not saying that Marlowe is a perfect gentleman or a perfect medieval knight. Instead, it Marlowe is attempting to be a knight in the modern world—a place, as Marlowe himself rightly notes, that is not fit for knights.
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