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The Big Sleep | Study Guide

Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep | Quotes


I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

Philip Marlowe, Chapter 1

After setting the scene and describing himself, Marlowe ends with these lines. They establish Marlowe's profession, which is closer to a calling. Also they establish the sardonic tone of Marlowe's first-person narrative and communicate key elements about his character. He wisecracks in both narration and dialogue, his own first audience for his comments. Furthermore Marlowe's comment establishes the importance of money and style. Marlowe is there to take on a case and dressed well because the new client is rich. Despite his own lack of money, Marlowe dresses well and knows style makes an impression.


I'm thirty-three ... went to college ... and can still speak English if there's any demand.

Philip Marlowe, Chapter 2

Marlowe's statement is efficient and serves several functions. Marlowe is doing what he was asked to do: he tells who he is and what his qualifications are. In a time when a college education was not commonplace, especially in professions like his, Marlowe is an educated man. This suggests something draws or drives him to detection. The gap between his training and job requirements is one of the ways in which Marlowe is an outsider, but his education gives him greater knowledge, deeper understanding, and the ability to converse on higher levels. It also displays a subtle contempt for most of the people with whom he interacts, even his wealthy clients.


I ... looked at Mrs. Regan. She was worth a stare. She was trouble.

Philip Marlowe, Chapter 3

Chandler uses juxtaposition here as Marlowe describes Vivian Regan. He follows the understatement of "she was worth a stare" with "she was trouble." Although it seems he is simply recounting his meeting with her, Marlowe is also advancing themes of sexuality, gender, and corruption. He's no saint, and he's attracted to her. But he knows himself and the world well enough to stay away, which is part of his definition as a hero.


It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.

Philip Marlowe, Chapter 6

Marlowe thinks this to himself while staking out Geiger's house. It is an example of verbal irony that is almost a paradox: how can it be a nice neighborhood if it's a place where bad habits flourish? The answer is that it is a neighborhood where house prices are high, and residents' morals are low. It's another example of the corruption running through Chandler's Los Angeles.


About the only part of a California house you can't put your foot through is the front door.

Philip Marlowe, Chapter 6

Marlowe thinks this when he tries to kick in Geiger's locked front door after hearing gunshots. As a literal observation it shows knowledge of California: this is a man who has tried to force his way into enough homes to generalize about how they are built—strong doors but a lot of glass. It is also a striking symbol of the theme of deception: the only the part of the house through which people should enter is solid, keeping them out. The rest is all façade, easy to penetrate. The statement might also be interpreted as indicating a closed society in which doors are closed to outsiders who must gain access through other means.


Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.

Philip Marlowe, Chapter 8

Marlowe thinks this when he is surveying what has happened at Geiger's house and realizes someone has dragged Geiger's body away. At first glance this line is simply a stylistic trill, one of the striking metaphors sprinkled throughout the book. However, Chandler eventually reveals Geiger's body was moved by his lover, creating a delayed dramatic irony: this dead man was so heavy in part because he broke his lover's heart (by dying). Plenty of lovers have had their hearts broken in this novel, and plenty of them have moved bodies.


He sounded like a man who had slept well and didn't owe too much money.

Philip Marlowe, Chapter 9

Marlowe is describing Bernie Ohls, chief investigator for the district attorney. That he is rested and lives a stable family life explain something about Bernie Ohls and the opposite about Marlowe, who did not sleep well, worried about the case, and drank too much. Given how little money he makes and how independent he insists on being, Marlowe may owe money as well. However, it is doubtful Marlowe would want to change positions with Ohls.


He didn't know the right people. That's all a police record means.

Vivian Regan, Chapter 11

Vivian Regan makes this cynical remark to Marlowe when they are discussing Owen Taylor's criminal record. Vivian's perspective on this topic shows how her wealth has shaped her experience. Her family's wealth has enabled her and others like her to avoid legal consequences either through contacts, good lawyers, or pressure on police. She has the same keen-eyed awareness of the world as Marlowe, which is one reason he likes her.


I told you I was a detective ... I work at it, lady. I don't play.

Philip Marlowe, Chapter 23

Marlowe and Vivian Regan are kissing and seem about to have sex, when Marlowe pulls back and questions Vivian about the case. When she gets upset with him, these words are part of his reply indicating his seriousness of purpose and refusal to be distracted from it. His code of ethics does not allow him to set aside his work even when he's kissing an attractive woman. Marlowe is exactly whom he appears to be. His total consistency with himself is part of what makes him a hero.


Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn't a game for knights.

Philip Marlowe, Chapter 24

When Carmen Sternwood tries to seduce him, Marlowe turns away. He focuses on the chess problem laid out on a table as a way of distracting himself. It works to a degree. He does not sleep with her or seem the least bit interested. However, the figure of the knight in the chess problem quickly becomes symbolic. Marlowe is thinking about this case and about life, and the knight who has no place here is Marlowe.


It's ... hard for women—even nice women—to realize that their bodies are not irresistible.

Philip Marlowe, Chapter 24

Marlowe refuses to sleep with Carmen, who is naked in his bed, just as he refused to sleep with her sister. This decision surprises Carmen and makes her doubt her worldview, if only for a moment. Throughout the book she gets what she wants by using her sexuality. The failure of that power angers her. He feels for sorry for her, but not sorry enough to go against his grain.


You can have a hangover from other things than alcohol. I had one from women.

Philip Marlowe, Chapter 25

In Chapter 23 Vivian Regan tries to seduce Marlowe, perhaps to manipulate him. In Chapter 24 Carmen has snuck into Marlowe's bed, apparently just to be "naughty." He sleeps with neither of them but still feels sick and woozy from the encounters. This feeling indicates his "hangover" isn't from women, or because he lets them intoxicate him, as might be if he slept with them. It is because their moral corruption sickens him.


"I'm a copper ... as honest as you could expect ... in a world where it's going out of style."

Captain Gregory, Chapter 30

Captain Gregory says this to Marlowe as they discuss the case late in the novel. Marlowe makes it clear he understands Captain Gregory has manipulated him to point him and the case in the direction he desired. This is part of Gregory's answer: he bends his honesty as little as he can but also as much as he has to so he can operate in a corrupt world with complex power dynamics. Like Marlowe and Vivian, he has a clear-eyed understanding of his world and makes no pretensions to sainthood.


I may break a few rules, but I break them in your favor.

Philip Marlowe, Chapter 30

Marlowe delivers these lines as part of a long speech to General Sternwood. The general has attempted to call Marlowe to task for how he has operated during the case. Rather than wisecracking or playing dumb, Marlowe takes this opportunity to spell out his principles and thus gives Chandler the chance to spell out the private eye's code for the reader. Rich men like General Sternwood may hire Marlowe, but Marlowe decides how to do the job.


For people with money you and your sister don't seem to have much fun.

Philip Marlowe, Chapter 31

Seeing Carmen looking lonely and forlorn and attempting again to flirt with him in her infantile way, Marlowe notes the lack of pleasure in her and her sister's lives. Both are bored and spoiled and take little enjoyment from what they indulge themselves in or allow to happen: gambling, drinking, drugs, blackmail, unfortunate relationships, and murder.

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