Places: The Big Sleep

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1939

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Detective and mystery

Time of work: 1930’s

Places DiscussedSternwood Mansion

Sternwood Big Sleep, TheMansion. Los Angeles home of General Sternwood, which Chandler uses to represent money–the motivating factor in all the skullduggery that follows. General Sternwood is being blackmailed because he is known to be a multimillionaire. His two daughters are being exploited for the same reason. Private investigator Philip Marlowe becomes involved in the family’s troubles because the general needs to protect his money and his daughters. Chandler dramatizes the presence of enormous wealth by describing the size and luxury of the estate, the number of servants required to maintain it, the general’s private greenhouse, Vivian Regan’s all-white bedroom, and the family’s expensive automobiles. Chandler also uses the opening scene at the Sternwood Mansion to introduce many of the principal characters of his novel. Chandler skillfully introduces the characters of Carmen Sternwood, the nymphomaniac who is the source of most of the trouble; Norris, the butler; the general, who represents the dying moral values of a past era; the chauffeur, who will eventually murder Arthur Gwynn Geiger; Vivian Sternwood; and Vivian’s faithful maid. The dialogue also gives a preliminary introduction to characters who will appear later: Bernie Ohls, the assistant district attorney; Geiger, the blackmailer and pornography peddler; Eddie Mars, the gambler; Mars’s beautiful estranged wife; and Rusty Regan, who never actually appears but is essential to the story. The Sternwood Mansion is described in detail because it serves as an important setting for the events of the novel.

Geiger’s bookstore

Geiger’s bookstore. Shop in the heart of Hollywood, symbolizes the cancer that lies hidden in the heart of an ostensibly peaceful city where the sun shines most days. The front of the store displays leather-bound classics, but in the back room lurks the most lucrative merchandise–pornography. Chandler uses this setting to introduce two other characters, Agnes Lozelle and Carol Lundgren.

Geiger’s house

Geiger’s house. Bungalow home of the pornographer and blackmailer Arthur Gwynn Geiger on Laverne Terrace, in the Hollywood Hills, that suggests Geiger’s corrupt mind, decadent lifestyle, and acquisitive mentality. As always, Chandler makes maximum use of his settings. Here Marlowe discovers Geiger’s corpse and later meets Eddie Mars. Toward the end of the novel, he brings Carol Lundgren here for a scene set against the home’s exotic Asian decor.

Brody’s apartment

Brody’s apartment. Home of the blackmailer Joe Brody. The apartment is interesting historically because it shows how inexpensive housing was during the Great Depression. Though practically broke, Brody is able to live in a spacious, beautifully furnished apartment for approximately forty dollars a month. Chandler’s economical use of setting is revealed here, as he uses Brody’s apartment repeatedly: Marlowe gets Carmen’s pictures, learns about the events of the night of Geiger’s murder, and sees Carmen at her worst when she appears with the gun that killed Rusty Regan. With Brody’s murder, Marlowe has seen and heard enough to be able to deduce the truth underlying the complicated web of guilt, mental illness, and deception.

Cypress Club

Cypress Club. Eddie Mars’s gambling casino, which is situated many miles from the heart of Los Angeles. A rambling mansion, it has been converted into a crooked enterprise designed to fleece affluent patrons. The Cypress Club is another elaborate setting and is used for three important chapters.

Realito

Realito. Fictitious town among the orange groves that have yet to be cleared to make way for post-World War II tract homes. Just as the Cypress Club is about thirty miles to the southwest of central Los Angeles, Realito is about thirty miles to the east. All the intervening space would soon become part of an awesome megalopolis. Here Marlowe finally meets Eddie Mars’s missing wife and has a dramatic shootout with Canino, who has murdered Harry Jones in a seedy office building near downtown Los Angeles, sending him to join the other deceased characters in what Chandler euphemistically called “the big sleep.”

BibliographyBruccoli, Matthew J., and Richard Layman. Hardboiled Mystery Writers: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross MacDonald. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2002. A handy supplemental reference that includes interviews, letters, and previously published studies. Illustrated.Durham, Philip. Down These Mean Streets a Man Must Go: Raymond Chandler’s Knight. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963. An outstanding study of Chandler’s work including The Big Sleep.Gross, Miriam, ed. The World of Raymond Chandler. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1977. A superb collection of critical essays on Chandler’s work by writers and scholars who provide ample discussion of The Big Sleep.MacShane, Frank. The Life of Raymond Chandler. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1976. This is the best biography of Chandler’s character as well as an informed analysis of his writings. Mentioned throughout, The Big Sleep is the subject of chapter 4.Marling, William. Raymond Chandler. Boston: Twayne, 1986. An excellent critical survey of Chandler’s life and writings. Although there are many references to The Big Sleep, chapter 5 is devoted entirely to the novel.Speir, Jerry. Raymond Chandler. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1981. A thoughtful survey that contains frequent comments on The Big Sleep.
Categories: Places