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The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 31 | Summary



As he leaves, Marlowe sees Carmen "looking forlorn and alone" in the garden. She flirts with him again, but he continues to find her unappealing. Returning her gun to her, he tells her not to "shoot it at people, unless you get to be a better shot." His comment causes her to ask him to teach her to shoot. He agrees, if she has a place where he can do so legally, which she does. They drive to an isolated, foul-smelling, abandoned oil field. Marlowe sets up an old can as a target for Carmen, but when he gets back to where she is standing, she points the gun at him and starts to hiss.

Marlowe laughs at her, and she starts to shoot. After she fires four shots, he rushes her as she's about to shoot the fifth. But before she can pull the trigger again, she has a seizure: "her head screwed up towards her left ear and froth ... on her lips. Her breath made a whining sound." She sways and drops the gun. Marlowe catches her as she starts to fall, stuffing "a wadded handkerchief between" her teeth, and drives her home. As they go up the drive to her house, she wakes up and remembers nothing. He denies anything happened, and she starts moaning.


Although Marlowe's exchange with Norris early in the chapter is brief, it is useful for tying the novel together emotionally. Norris explains the general became fond of Rusty Regan because he had a "soldier's eye," like Marlowe himself. This observation links Regan and Marlowe as knights in Sternwood's service and makes the living detective brother to the missing bootlegger. It also underscores the importance of being able to read people. All the characters that end up fighting for a good cause in the novel, regardless of their formal positions or backgrounds, share the ability to read people accurately and recognize quality and corruption.

This ability again saves Marlowe's life when Carmen asks him to teach her to shoot. He correctly reads her words as a deception and sees past her light-hearted front to recognize the danger she poses to him. He then reveals more of the pragmatic deception he has practiced throughout the novel by replacing the real bullets with blanks.

This action scene also reveals Carmen has been driving the case all along. Although the general wanted to save his daughter from embarrassment, the real issue is saving others, especially men, from Carmen. The reader is left to determine whether the general knew that all along and deceived Marlowe or whether he remained purposely blind out of misguided love for his daughter.

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