The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 18 | Summary

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Summary

Ohls arrives at Geiger's house, reviews the scene, and takes Carol Lundgren away. Marlowe follows Ohls as they drive to district attorney Taggart Wilde's house. Several police officers are already there. Ohls introduces Marlowe to one of them, Captain Cronjager. Ohls and Cronjager share information about the various deaths and squabble over information being withheld and over professional turf. Marlowe shares what he knows, revealing everything except that Carmen was at Brody's and that Eddie Mars visited Geiger's house. Cronjager grills him for withholding information, but Marlowe says he was protecting a client. They talk about possibilities—Brody planting the gun, Taylor's reason for killing Geiger, and Lundgren's reason for moving the body.

Marlowe shares all the actual items he has collected, including the coded book of records. He tells them he has kept a few pieces of information private, to protect clients. He says the blackmail element has to be suppressed and takes them out to his car to show them why—the pornographic book from Geiger's. He points out if it becomes public, the police in Hollywood would have to admit they knew about Geiger and let him operate his pornography ring in the open. Wilde agrees to protect General Sternwood, a friend and someone the D.A. feels sorry for because of Sternwood's daughters, "especially that little blond brat."

After Ohls and Cronjager leave, Wilde asks Marlowe why he's willing to buck the police for "twenty-five dollars a day and expenses." Marlowe admits he doesn't like it, but says he has to: it is his profession to sell his skills and live by his principles. They talk a bit more about Wilde's father's friendship with General Sternwood, and then Wilde turns Marlowe loose.

Analysis

Chapter 18 gives readers a break in the pacing and a chance to review and integrate the complex activity and entanglements. It also changes the course of the plot. Marlowe is no longer solving this case alone. Instead he shares most of the information he has discovered with the authorities. This collaboration underscores one of the major differences between the hard-boiled detective and many of the classic detectives of the genre's "Golden Age." The hard-boiled detective operates outside of normal social conventions such as arrests and trials. For criminals to be brought to "justice" as understood in a legal sense, the detective must hand them over to the police. The hard-boiled detective has the choice whether to do so or mete out his own brand of justice.

The detective's involvement with others reveals more of Marlowe's character. His choice to share information with the police is highly practical—useful to Marlowe above all even if it is legally the right thing to do. It gains him allies and a road to self-preservation because he has been involved in murders. It also gives him an opportunity to discuss explanations and solutions with trained professionals. And it relieves him of several practical obstacles while he pursues the Regan connection with the Sternwoods.

Finally when Wilde directly questions Marlowe about why he stays involved with the case and risks trouble with the law, Marlowe lays out his vision of his profession and what it involves. Here Marlowe celebrates a moral code for the private detective as he claims the right to act on his own code of ethics, even if he doesn't explicitly define it. Putting adherence to an ethical code above self-interest underscores its importance because Chandler juxtaposes it with the discussion of how the Hollywood police must have known Geiger's bookstore "is just a front ... But the Hollywood police allowed it to operate, for their own reasons." He's contrasting private virtue with civic corruption and threatening to make it public.

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