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The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 7 | Summary



Inside Geiger's house Marlowe notices the room he has entered is ornately decorated in an Asian motif and smells of ether and cordite. Carmen Sternwood is sitting "very straight, with her hands on the arms of the chair, her knees close together, her body stiffly erect in the pose of an Egyptian goddess," wearing nothing but a pair of jade earrings. She seems unconscious but isn't. Her wide-open eyes are "mad eyes." She is drugged.

Geiger's dead body is lying on the floor, face up, with three bullet holes in him. Marlowe sees two glasses and a bottle, which smells like ether and laudanum. He finds some clothes and tries to dress Carmen. He slaps her to get her attention, she fights back, and he slaps her several more times. He gets the dress on her and walks her around the room, trying to sober her up. She giggles at the dead body, and he lets her go to sleep.

As Marlowe searches the house, he notices a camera hidden in a totem pole and a window that has been forced open. In a bedroom that seems decorated for a woman he sees clothes indicating it belongs to Geiger. Marlowe finds a notebook written in code and takes it with him. Unable to wake Carmen, he carries her to the car and drives her home.


Carmen Sternwood seemed somewhat unbalanced in the first chapter when she throws herself at Marlowe, almost literally. Chapter 7 reveals her erratic behavior may well be caused by drugs. She has been using ether and laudanum and is so unhinged she can sit naked near a corpse and giggle. Not in control of herself, she seems to have no idea of what is happening around her. Ether is used as an anesthetic, and laudanum is a painkiller derived from opium. Both can be addictive and would reduce Carmen's sensitivity and distance her from the world.

In Chapter 1 Marlowe comments on the knight in the stained-glass panel who is trying to save the woman dressed only in her hair. Here Marlowe is in a version of the same situation, but instead of trying to free Carmen, dressed only in jade earrings, from physical bonds, he is trying to free her from the effects of drugs and the consequences of her behavior. Her situation, too, is a modern one. She is not an innocent damsel in distress but a rebellious 20-year-old who has placed herself in dangerous situations with dangerous people. Although he is a man who drinks heavily, flirts openly, and drives recklessly, Marlowe shows his character as a modern-day knight by refusing to take advantage of a woman in Carmen's state. He keeps his physical distance as much as possible, as he attempts in the car to "keep her head off my shoulder" and "out of my lap." His emotional distance is even farther away: he's working, and this is business.

Even in the midst of these emotionally charged complications with Carmen, Marlowe does not forget the case. While still at Geiger's house and trying to manage Carmen he takes the time to look around. Finding Geiger's bedroom decorated for a woman hints at Geiger's secret and advances the themes of deception and gender. Readers may wonder at this point who inhabits this room and what is going on. The other details Marlowe notices continue to demonstrate Chandler's smooth, understated process of establishing the protagonist as a sharp and experienced investigator, a man of the street who knows how to use his wits. Marlowe knows what different illicit drugs smell like, even when they are mixed, and he is under stress.

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