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The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 12 | Summary



Marlowe drives back to Geiger's house, where he finds Carmen Sternwood outside "looking wild-eyed at [his] car, as if she hadn't heard it come up the hill." She tries to hide, but Marlowe invites her to come into the house with him. The house looks terrible in daylight—"a stealthy nastiness": "Chinese junk on the walls, the rug, the fussy lamps, the teakwood stuff, the sticky riot of colors, the totem pole, the flagon of ether and laudanum."

When Marlowe asks if she's willing to tell the police Joe Brody did the killing and mentions the nude photo of her, Carmen giggles. Her behavior strikes Marlowe as that of someone who has gone wrong. Acting like a little girl, she flirts with him. He tries to get information from her and tells her the picture is gone and not to worry about it. When Carmen is about to leave, they hear a car pull up. Carmen panics at the sound, standing "frozen." A man unlocks the front door and enters.


In this chapter Marlowe realizes how far corruption has spread in the Sternwood family. Early in the chapter he sees Carmen standing in front of him like a "bad girl in the principal's office": she misbehaves, but he stills sees her actions with a kind of innocence, or at least as something ordinary. Later in the chapter, however, her giggling gives him a "nasty feeling" as he recognizes how disturbed she is. At the same time though, he acknowledges they are linked in some fundamental way: "two stooges in search of a comedian." Are they being played?

The difference between Geiger's house by night and by day further develops the themes of corruption and deception: the house of a pornographer leading a double life can look appropriate only in the shadows. It is sordid in the light.

This chapter also marks Marlowe's further change in relation to the case. He was hired to solve one case, but that case has ended with Geiger's death. Now he is actively manipulating Carmen, coaching her in what story to tell and thus playing a part rather than observing.

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