The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Marlowe goes back into Brody’s apartment, he sees that Carmen’s little gun has blown the window out. On the gun’s grip reads “Carmen from Owen.” Marlowe thinks she must have all men wrapped around her finger. 
Carmen, like her gun, is more dangerous than first glance suggests. Her “cute” demeanor manipulates all men, although Marlowe sees straight through it. His self-control and wisdom when it comes to women adds to his masculine portrayal.
Themes
Masculinity Theme Icon
Back to questioning Brody, Marlowe asks why he blackmailed Mrs. Regan rather than her father. Brody says he’d already “tapped” General Sternwood before and thought he might call the police this time. He adds that Mrs. Regan is likely to have some “soft spots” that would work in Brody’s favor. 
Marlowe is now fully in control of the exchange, given he had outwitted Brody when the latter had a gun, whereas now Marlowe has two guns. Brody’s frequent attempts at blackmail represent his self-serving nature, just as his approach seeks to maximize his returns.
Themes
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Marlowe asks Brody how he came by the photos. Brody tries to avoid the question, to Agnes’s exasperation. The detective says they all need to agree on a story, firstly that Carmen was not involved. Brody is still evasive about how he acquired the photos of Carmen, and Marlowe replies sarcastically that Brody picked them up off a random guy he “just passed in the street.”
Despite Marlowe’s clear upper hand, Brody still attempts to hide something. Agnes despairs of his idiocy, but given all the characters tend to hold out until the last moment before divulging any information, Agnes should not be surprised. Perhaps she is more frustrated to see Brody backed into a corner in this way.
Themes
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
As Brody remains evasive, Marlowe heads for the door and places Brody’s guns on a table, saying the current situation is going to lead to Brody ending up in jail for the murder of Geiger—and that of someone else. Brody is taken by surprise, and tells Marlowe to stay and explain.
Again, Marlowe chooses a passive aggressive threat and a carefully deployed revelation to intimidate and confuse Brody, rather than swinging a gun around. This approach gives the detective an air of class, or at least more rational control of the situation.
Themes
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
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Marlowe asks Brody where he was the previous night, and Brody admits he had recently been tailing Geiger to see who else was in on his racket. Brody was parked at the back of Geiger’s house that night, and saw a Buick parked there. He checked and it was registered to Mrs. Regan.
The detective’s ploy has worked. Brody starts to spill the whole story in his fear of Carmen testifying that he is the murderer. Brody’s sudden compliance demonstrates Marlowe’s wide experience outsmarting such criminals, who only seek their own advantage, or simply survival.
Themes
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Brody claims he left after inspecting the other car, and Marlowe tells him the Buick ended up in the sea with a corpse in it. Worried, Brody says Marlowe cannot tie him to that death. Marlowe thinks he can—he suggests that Owen killed Geiger in jealousy over Carmen, took the photo, and then Brody chased after Owen to take the photo back.
Marlowe doubles down on his accusations, telling Brody he will take the fall for Owen’s murder instead. Whether Marlowe truly believes Brody killed Owen is debatable, but accusing Brody to his face certainly provides the pressure to force a panicking Brody into confessing his actual actions.
Themes
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Brody agrees that’s probably what happened, but it doesn’t follow that Brody also killed Owen. He admits he heard the shots and followed the fleeing Owen, but only hit him on the head to search him. He took the plate holder out of curiosity, after which Owen regained consciousness and drove off.
Again, Marlowe’s play comes up trumps, as Brody begins to gush the remaining parts of the story. Brody stealing the photo plate seems likely given his proven thieving nature, and the police were certain Owen had driven himself down the pier, so the story seems to fit.
Themes
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Marlowe asks Brody how he knows it was Geiger who was killed. Brody says he assumed, and was sure of it after he had the photos developed. Brody says he saw that Geiger’s death meant it was a good time to steal Geiger’s books and blackmail the Sternwoods “for travel money.” Brody denies moving Geiger’s body, though, saying he worried the police would show up.
Brody and Agnes had been planning to steal Geiger’s racket from under him for some time, and his death provided the perfect opportunity. These heartless thieves place their own profit above any sense of loyalty or honor, finding any way to make money quickly.
Themes
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
The door buzzer rings again. Looking at his guns on the table, Brody thinks that Carmen must be back. He strides over to the door, gun in hand. As he opens the door, someone says “Brody?” and shoots him twice. Brody falls forward against the door, dead.
Here, the reader learns the fate of those who do not assume the worst from a new situation in this city. Brody, thinking an unarmed Carmen has returned, decides not to grab his gun. This misjudgment costs him his life. In a city such as this, with innumerable aggressors each seeking their own ends, one cannot afford not to assume the worst.
Themes
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Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Marlowe launches himself out of the door, along the hall and down the stairs. Someone in a “leather jerkin” is fleeing up the road. The person turns back and shoots toward Marlowe. The detective continues to pursue the figure, getting into his car and driving around the block. He gets out of the car, hides between two vehicles, and jumps the leather-clad figure when he passes by. 
Again demonstrating his superior tailing techniques, Marlowe soon chases down Brody’s murderer. Providing Marlowe with an aura of infallibility, in this scene he appears as a man in full control of his surroundings at any given time.
Themes
Masculinity Theme Icon
With Carmen’s gun in his hand, Marlowe asks the figure for a light, and recognizes the good-looking kid from Geiger’s store. Marlowe quips, “You must have thought a lot of that Queen,” and the kid swears at him.
Marlowe’s unsympathetic mockery of Geiger reveals his disdain for the dead man’s lifestyle, and presumably that of this boy who it seems has killed Brody in misplaced revenge. To Marlowe, these nonconforming men are not real men.
Themes
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Police sirens sound, and Marlowe tries to convince the boy to go with him instead of the cops, saying he is a friend of Geiger’s. The boy continues to swear at Marlowe, reaching into his jacket for his own gun.
As he did previously with Brody, Marlowe appeals to the boy’s survival instinct. Marlowe’s dishonest offer shows his willingness to bend the truth to see justice served.
Themes
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Marlowe sticks his gun deeper into the kid’s stomach, takes the gun in the boy’s jacket, and makes him get into the detective’s car. The kid gets in the driver’s side as instructed. They let the police car pass them.
Seeing the boy is more interested in shooting Marlowe as a means to escape, the detective decides to resort to force instead.
Themes
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They begin to drive toward Geiger’s house, and Marlowe asks the kid his name—Carol Lundgren. Marlowe tells him he shot the wrong guy, and that Brody didn’t kill Geiger, his “queen.” Carol just swears at him again.
Marlowe heartlessly mocks Geiger’s mourning friend, again highlighting Geiger’s effeminacy as he disdains the dead man’s unconventional lifestyle. While Marlowe’s disgust would indicate his proper moral compass at the time of the book’s release, looking back, Marlowe’s rigid notion of masculinity comes at the direct expense of nonconformist men such as Carol and Geiger.  
Themes
Masculinity Theme Icon