The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 30 | Summary

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Summary

The next day Marlowe visits Captain Gregory at the Missing Persons Bureau. In response to Gregory's questions Marlowe explains how he found Mona Mars. Gregory suggests Marlowe thinks Gregory should have found her and shares with Marlowe a hypothetical explanation of what might have happened if he had known how to find her. Marlowe denies thinking that but observes Eddie Mars seems to know everything that goes on in the office. Gregory explains he is a "reasonably honest" cop, as honest as he should be "in a world where [honesty is] out of style." He shares a long explanation of how the world works but claims it doesn't mean he thinks Mars killed Regan. He praises Marlowe for not covering up what happened in Realito and tells Marlowe Mars's wife has been released. He also advises Marlowe to leave the Sternwood family alone and not to look for Regan. Marlowe tells Gregory he has no plans to do so.

Marlowe goes home, has a drink, and tries to sleep. However, confusing images of the case cycle through his brain, with characters doing things that didn't happen. The next morning Norris calls Marlowe and asks him to visit the general. Marlowe arrives at the Sternwoods to find General Sternwood lying in bed and angry with Marlowe for looking for Regan. When the general suggests Marlowe has betrayed his trust, Marlowe offers to return the fee for the case because it has an unsatisfactory ending. When General Sternwood asks why Marlowe visited Gregory, Marlowe explains his reasoning, and he'd "played a hunch" regarding the case. When Marlowe admits having misled Captain Gregory by letting him think Marlowe was hired to find Regan, the general questions his ethics. Marlowe says he had to mislead Gregory to get the information he needed, and although Marlowe breaks rules, he does so for his clients. He explains how he approached the case and saw the general was genuinely fond of his missing son-in-law. The general frets a bit over how clearly Marlowe could read him and offers him $1000 to find Regan.

Analysis

In formulaic detective fiction the detective solves the crime and then explains it in the denouement—the part of the plot in which loose ends are wrapped up and reasoning is explained. But when Marlowe explains his view of the case to Captain Gregory, the case is not yet over. The mysteries of the blackmail, Geiger's death, Taylor's death, and Mona Mars's disappearance all have been solved and killers caught or disposed of. The one remaining mystery is Rusty Regan. And Marlowe cannot rest until he finds answers. By sharing his explanations with Captain Gregory, Marlowe reveals his insight into the officer, who returns the act explicitly guiding Marlowe away from searching for Regan

Marlowe's inability to sleep demonstrates his deep involvement in the unsettled case. His dreams show how far corruption and deception have spread. In fact he can't trust his own mind to remember events accurately. The case has infected Marlowe down to the level of his subconscious.

Marlowe's discussion with the general is a second denouement. Similar to his talk with Gregory, Marlowe's explanation of the case ends up revealing as much about Marlowe and the general—their relationship and their respective characters—as it does about the case. Among other things, Marlowe reveals he knew that the general was testing and manipulating him. This knowledge makes it all the more intriguing for Marlowe to respect, care for, and protect the general.

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