The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

When Marlowe arrives at the Sternwood house, he makes sure the general is asleep and Carmen is attended to. He walks for 10 blocks through "curved rain-swept streets, under the steady drip of trees, past lighted windows in big houses in ghostly enormous grounds, vague clusters of eaves and gables and lighted windows high on the hillside, remote and inaccessible, like witch houses in a forest." He decides not to take a taxi in case the driver is questioned, because—as Marlowe says—"taxi drivers remember." His destination is Geiger's house.

When he gets there, the body is gone, as are the rug beneath it and some pieces of silk from the wall. Marlowe searches the house again, looking for the body, and uses one of Geiger's keys to unlock another bedroom, this one decorated in a masculine style. As he searches the house and grounds, Marlowe sees two grooves in the dirt. Marlowe deduces the grooves were made as someone dragged Geiger's body away and is quite certain it wasn't the police or the killer who took the body, but a third party. He goes home, showers, and drinks while trying to decipher the code in Geiger's notebook until he goes to sleep.

Analysis

Like the maid and butler, Marlowe takes care of the Sternwoods, although in different ways. They all care for Carmen physically; they care for the general emotionally, guarding him from her activities. Like them Marlowe is hired help. Also like them, he is dedicated to his work. Although he doesn't have to, he stays on the case well into the night. He is dedicated enough to his work that after a long and difficult day, he finally gets home and sits "around in the apartment ... trying to crack the code in Geiger's blue indexed notebook." But this dedication to his work doesn't make him perfect. He still enjoys his alcohol.

In this chapter Chandler develops several aspects of his novel at once. The plot becomes more complex: the body is gone, and most likely a third party is involved. And Marlowe further demonstrates his skill at detection by noticing and interpreting the clues this new player has left in the house. Chandler also develops the theme of deception, as Marlowe unlocks the second of Geiger's locked bedrooms. Like Marlowe, readers discern this second bedroom is not a guest room, but its use and significance are not yet clear. Clearly its masculine décor means something, and the themes of deception and gender most likely enter readers' minds as they compare the two rooms, which later will indicate the public and private sides of Geiger's sexuality.

Marlowe's walk through the rain indicates one of Chandler's sources for Marlowe. The headmaster at Dulwich College, where Chandler went to school, was renowned for his ethics and tenacity, never letting circumstances keep him from what he needed to do. He once walked a mile through the rain to return a student's paper. In terms of the story, however, the motif of rain reinforces the darkness of the setting—action occurs at night, adding to the sense of mystery and to the isolation of the main character. He is alone in the dark in the rain—alienated and determined, but not uncomfortable in such an atmosphere.

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