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The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 24 | Summary



When Marlowe gets home, he finds Carmen Sternwood lying on his bed. When she giggles and calls herself "cute," he turns away to look at the problem that is set up on his chessboard. She flirts more actively, first telling him she's naked and then pulling back the covers to show him. Marlowe is uninterested and keeps pressing her to tell him how she got in. (The manager let her in.) She keeps flirting and giggling, her giggles making Marlowe "think of rats behind a wainscoting in an old house." He insists she get dressed—that she's there only to show how "naughty" she can be. He explains he works for her father and turns back to his chessboard. He then offers to make her a drink, but with a condition: she has to get dressed. She hisses and curses at Marlowe. He ignores the behavior and gives her three minutes to get dressed and get out. She dresses and leaves with eight seconds to spare.


Carmen Sternwood's presence in Marlowe's apartment reveals more about her character. First she does not stumble into her vices but actively pursues them: it took conscious scheming for her to sneak into his home. She is no innocent being led astray. Second, the manager's letting her into Marlowe's place shows there are different rules for different people. The beautiful and rich can get away with things others cannot. Third, although Carmen spends some time hissing at him, suggesting she is unbalanced and has lost control, when Marlowe gives her a deadline of three minutes to get dressed, she does. Her reaction indicates Marlowe is at least partially correct: she is playing at being bad.

This chapter also develops the meaning of the knight more fully, especially in relation to Marlowe's character as a man of integrity and "professional pride." In coaxing her to get dressed and out of his bed, he reveals his professional ethics: "I'm working for your father. He's a sick man, very frail, very helpless. He sort of trusts me not to pull any stunts."

In addition Marlowe plays chess alone, working through problems. This practice makes him more intellectual than many of the characters he deals with. It also means he thinks strategically while alone. Most pointedly, though, he uses the knight as a shield against the temptation currently naked in his apartment, although he finds her infantile giggling and thumb sucking unappealing. He also thinks quite explicitly, "Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn't a game for knights." Marlowe does not dwell on his situation but certainly recognizes how out of place his knightly code is in his world. On the most basic level he tries to save maidens in trouble who try to sleep with him and then try to kill him.

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