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The Big Sleep

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

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.