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The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 13 | Summary



The man is Eddie Mars, dressed all in gray, except for black shoes and red diamonds on his tie. His eyes, hair, and eyebrows are gray. He smiles and asks about Geiger. Marlowe says they are "business acquaintances" there to pick up a book. When they try to leave, Mars says Carmen can leave, but he wants to talk to Marlowe. Carmen leaves, and Mars and Marlowe have an extended talk. Mars finds dried blood on the floor. He quizzes Marlowe on his name and job and on learning Marlowe is a private detective, tries to hire him. When Marlowe refuses, Mars mentions he owns the house and rents it to Geiger. They talk about what happened, with Mars suggesting Marlowe might have killed Geiger and Marlowe providing counter-arguments, such as pointing out someone stole Geiger's pornography.

When they hear a car door out front, Mars pulls a gun and makes Marlowe go to the door. Marlowe refuses, and Mars opens the door for his two gunmen who have been waiting outside. Mars has them search Marlowe for a gun (which he doesn't have) and for identification (which confirms his name and profession). When Mars pressures Marlowe to share what he knows, Marlowe refuses, saying he has to protect his client. Mars gets angry, but Marlowe reveals nothing. However, Marlowe teases Mars about his wife, pushing the joke too far. Marlowe leaves, and "with hate in his eyes" Mars glares at him.


Mars's gray presentation is significant. Gray is a blend of black and white, and Mars seems to blur categories and distinctions: is he good or bad? Criminal or businessman? This ambiguity continues throughout the novel. In Roman mythology Mars is the god of war and an active warrior himself, but Eddie Mars largely conducts his personal warfare through hired hands.

No matter who Mars is, he has the advantage over Marlowe: a gun and gangsters to ensure he has the upper hand. Yet Marlowe teases him repeatedly, even going so far as to make a snide remark about Mars's acquaintance with Rusty Regan: "I hear you had a pal came from [Clonmel]." Of course the comment angers Mars because of the stories about his wife and Regan, from Clonmel, Ireland. This kind of insolence to those with the upper hand is another of Marlowe's character traits, as is the sarcastic banter he consistently engages in. It is as if he can't see a form of authority—whether official or momentary—without pushing back against it to demonstrate his independence. Marlowe's character continually raises the stakes by making risky situations more emotionally charged and less stable. And as a literary device his verbal assaults heighten tension, as readers do not know how characters, especially unstable ones, on the receiving end will react.

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