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The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 32 | Summary



The maid shows Marlowe to the upstairs sitting room. After a while Vivian comes in. She seems nervous and blames Marlowe for frightening Carmen into having a seizure. Marlowe denies doing anything to her but does say he gave Carmen her gun. He recounts taking her to the isolated place to learn to shoot but describes the seizure without revealing she tried to shoot him. As Vivian probes with questions, trying to make sure that's all that happened, Marlowe asks questions of his own about loose ends in the case. Marlowe understands the entire case, which includes Eddie Mars being behind Geiger's racket, Owen Taylor killing Geiger, and Eddie Mars hiding his wife to make it look as though Regan ran away with her.

Marlowe explains Eddie Mars did all this for money; he knew what happened to Regan and didn't want anyone to know, especially the police. He also says the police bought the story—that they don't think Regan was killed. Vivian asks how Marlowe knows anyone killed Regan. He pulls out Carmen's gun and explains how she tried to shoot him, adding he rigged the situation by loading it with blanks. Vivian says he can't prove it. He agrees but says he's sure this wasn't the first time Carmen tried to shoot someone. In fact Carmen shot Regan. Marlowe explains Carmen tried to shoot him because he turned her down, and she killed Regan because he did the same.

After Vivian tries to bribe him, Marlowe defends himself and his ethics and demands she take her sister away to get her help. Vivian eventually admits Carmen did kill Regan, whose body is hidden "in the sump." She admits Eddie Mars helped her dispose of the body and that she didn't love Regan and cared more about protecting her father from knowing about Carmen. Claiming she has been playing for time, Vivian agrees to take her sister away and get her help. She protests Eddie Mars might object, but Marlowe says he'll take care of Mars. Then thinking about the case, Regan, and death, Marlowe leaves and stops for a couple of drinks on the way home.


This chapter includes Marlowe's third and final explanation of the case. Like his explanation to Captain Gregory and to the general, this one evolves as Marlowe tells it. He rations out the facts methodically and explains his relationship to them and their meaning. One of his most important points is the explanation of how he knew Carmen would try to shoot him. It is also one of the most difficult points because he has to tell Vivian her sister is so unbalanced she kills men for turning her down. Vivian is more concerned over whether Marlowe can prove Carmen tried to shoot him than that she did, underscoring the sisters' shared moral corruption.

Marlowe finally exposes the sorry truth he has been trying to avoid throughout the entire novel: he finds out what happened to Rusty Regan. Just as Norris recognizes Marlowe and Regan as brothers who share the same knightly qualities, Carmen has found them both too honorable to accept her sexual advances and tried to shoot them. With protection from equally corrupt individuals Carmen got away with shooting a bootlegger. In Marlowe's world the criminal is less suspicious and cunning than the detective whose superior skills and wit save the day.

Marlowe's solution to Carmen's mental health issues is surprising for the period and genre, one of the reasons he made such an impact on detective fiction. Proposing medical care for a remorseless killer who just tried to kill him shows compassion rather than detached justice, as most detective stories would. The murderer isn't hauled off to jail, and the main gangster is still operating (perhaps not for long though). Despite the depravity of the "maiden," she is the naked damsel whom Marlowe, the knight, rescues and must ensure she is cared for in a way befitting a rich—and deeply disturbed—young woman.

The resolution also reveals the novel's division along gender lines. Marlowe doesn't consider getting Canino medical help, although he did briefly consider a fair fight. Instead he kills him. He doesn't consider getting medical help for Carol Lundgren, whom he knocks unconscious and then gives to the police. But Carmen fills the role of the maiden in the stained-glass window.

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