The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 23 | Summary



Marlowe hears someone exit the club, the steps sounding like a woman's. The masked man pulls a gun and demands the woman give him her bag. As he inspects it to make sure the winnings are there, Marlowe recognizes the man's voice and then approaches, holding a pipe in his pocket as though it were a gun. Marlowe makes the man put the bag on the ground and leave. Once he does, Marlowe returns the bag to Vivian Regan. "Is my boy friend still blotto?" she asks as she goes to find Larry Cobb, the man who drove her to the club. He is drunk indeed, as he often is, and she tips a club worker to make sure someone takes care of him. Then she leaves with Marlowe.

He drives until he finds a drugstore that is still open. Marlowe buys some whiskey, which the two of them drink in their coffee ignoring the clerk who tells them "it's against the law to drink liquor in here." They discuss the case, Marlowe wanting to know what Eddie Mars has on her. Back in the car, Vivian has him drive somewhere she can see the water. When they park, she tells him to hold her, and they kiss for a while. She asks where he lives, and they seem on the verge of having sex when he asks her again what Eddie Mars has on her. When she gets upset, Marlowe tells her "kissing is nice, but your father didn't hire me to sleep with you." They argue, and she threatens him. She is so upset she takes a handkerchief from her purse and shreds it with her teeth. Eventually she asks why Marlowe thinks Mars has something on her. It's clear to Marlowe: "He lets you win a lot of money and sends a gunpoke around to take it back for him. You're not more than mildly surprised." After a few more complaints and sarcastic comments, Vivian asks Marlowe to take her home. He does.


Marlowe once again demonstrates his knightly qualities by saving Vivian from the masked man and by dismissing the would-be thief without harming him. In fact he knows him and calls his bluff. The scene is important in establishing Vivian's familiarity with it—that she is neither frightened nor grateful to Marlow and certainly not surprised. That she has a connection with Eddie Mars is clear, although it is difficult to determine what it is and what her gambling wins and losses actually mean. Clearly she is playing with a great deal of money.

Drinking takes on another meaning in this chapter as a means of deception. In a time of prohibition, people worked hard to deceive others that they were not drinking, but the orchestra at Mars's club does the opposite: pretending to be drunk when they are not. The stratagem is useful as a way of selling more alcohol, and it sheds light on the Sternwood sisters. Carmen has been using drugs and drinking to disguise some form of madness, and Vivian is working hard to deceive Marlowe that her money was stolen.

The alcohol use thus becomes part of this chapter's crucial point: the complicated exchange between Marlowe and Vivian Regan. Marlowe is clearly attracted to her, and says so in no uncertain terms: "Don't think I'm an icicle ... I'm not blind or without senses. I have warm blood like the next guy." But perhaps unlike the next guy, he is willing to pass up a chance to sleep with her to pursue the case. She is outraged at his rejection and at the way her sexuality has failed to distract him. For his part Marlowe is willing to expose the lie about what happened at the club by revealing he knew her winning was a scam. Vivian's response shows she's not so different from his sister Carmen when she doesn't get her way. Whereas Carmen hisses, Vivian shreds a handkerchief with her teeth.

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