The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 26 | Summary

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Summary

Later that day—still raining and now dark—Marlowe goes to meet Harry Jones at his office in the Fulwider Building, a sorry, dirty building full of marginal businesses. Hearing voices through the transom of the office, Marlowe stops to listen. He goes to another door to the office and breaks in, sneaking to a spot where he can hear better. Jones and a "purring voice" are discussing the situation. The unknown voice demands to know where Agnes is, and Jones eventually tells him. As they are wrapping up, Jones calls the man by his name: Canino. They have a drink to seal their relationship, and Marlowe hears a thud. Canino leaves, and Marlowe enters the room. Jones is lying there dead; he has been poisoned.

Marlowe gets the number of Agnes's apartment building and calls the manager to see if Agnes is there. The manager, Mr. Schiff, says she isn't: two car salesmen live there. As Marlowe is about to leave, the phone rings, and he answers it. It's Agnes asking for Jones. Marlowe explains their deal—money for information—and asks if she knows Canino. Hearing the name upsets her, but they agree to meet.

Analysis

Jones's office is one of the details defining the marginal world in which he lives. Geiger was a criminal, and by period standards sexually perverted, but Jones is something more pathetic: a grifter, a low-level con man or scammer. His office is in a dirty, neglected building housing disreputable "small sick businesses that had crawled there to die." In a city exploding with new fortunes, driven by oil and movies, these businesses crawl far below the radar and about as far down as possible.

At various points in the novel Marlowe seems distant from what's going on, even alienated. The end of this chapter is one of those times, and it effectively dramatizes why that might be: sometimes his life is too painful to experience directly. Chandler shows this by having it once again be raining and having Marlowe realize his mouth is open when one of the rain drops slips inside. Without his conscious choice, his face has twisted into a replica of Harry Jones's after he drank the poison. Chandler doesn't comment on it—he lets the image speak for itself—but it suggests Marlowe may wisecrack because he feels things too intensely and jokes to get a handle on them. At the very least this image clearly indicates Marlowe is not a knight who passes through his adventures unscathed. This is someone who suffers along with his clients.

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