The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Marlowe sits in his office and thinks everything over. He is thinking about making a drink, even though drinking alone isn’t much fun, when the phone rings. It’s Norris. The butler tells the detective that the General read the newspapers and assumes the case is concluded. Marlowe explains he didn’t shoot Geiger, and will destroy the photos. Norris says he’s sending Marlowe a check for $500.
Marlowe’s wealthy client General Sternwood knows how deals are made behind closed doors, and can read through the papers’ version of events to see that Marlowe has concluded the case. With his check comes the end of Marlowe’s official services for Sternwood, meaning the detective no longer needs to serve the old man’s interests.
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Marlowe makes the drink he’d promised himself. He thinks about Rusty, leaving his rich and good-looking wife for someone else’s. The police were clueless, and General Sternwood hadn’t wanted to admit he had gone to the police in the first place. Marlowe agrees with Gregory that Mars is probably too smart to kill both Rusty and his own wife (Mona) out of jealousy.
Marlowe, now a free agent, cannot stop thinking about his recent case, which is transforming into a different one. Although Marlowe tells himself he believes the versions of events he has heard, his innate skepticism means he cannot stop turning the matter over in his own mind. 
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Marlowe thinks to himself that Mrs. Regan and Eddie have a good relationship, not just because she spends money at his casino, but because their spouses ran away together. No wonder she could borrow money from Mars. Marlowe also thinks how Lundgren is now out of the picture, likely to be sent to jail for life if not executed by cyanide.
The city’s elite know and assist one another, while an average boy who got out of his depth in a complex criminal world will be spending the rest of his life in prison, a life that might be cut short by execution. Carol’s potential execution would involve poisoning, reflecting the toxic environment that led him to such an end.
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Marlowe sees that the matter is mostly tied up, and that the sensible option would be to move on. Instead, he calls Eddie Mars to tell him the detective will head down to the casino that evening. 
The private detective cannot let the matter lie, unhappy with hearing only other people’s opinions. He wants to close the case completely, to his own standard. 
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That evening, Marlowe arrives at the “outwardly shabby” Cypress Club in an L.A. suburb. One of Mars’s men escorts Marlowe into the boss’s office. Mars and Marlowe shake hands, and the detective gets straight to the point, asking Mars what he wants. Mars wants to have a drink first, but Marlowe is more focused on business. The well-dressed Mars forces a drink on Marlowe.
Marlowe steps into the venue for Mars’s illegal gambling racket, again an establishment barely hidden in plain sight. Mars receives Marlowe warmly, as the latter has gained Mars’s trust by keeping the gangster out of his report to the police. Yet Marlowe remains distant, unwilling to form alliances.
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Marlowe admits to coming to the casino during Prohibition. Mars tells the detective that Mrs. Regan is in the casino right then, winning on roulette. The racketeer offers Marlowe money for keeping his name out of his statement to the police, which Mars knows about through his links in the department. Marlowe declines in a roundabout manner, asking for information on Rusty Regan instead.
In his typical style, Marlowe maintains his indirect manner during the exchange, as his guard is still up. Eddie admits to buying police loyalty, with inside informants keeping him up to date. His connections represent how wealthy criminals have the resources, and therefore the connections, to protect themselves. In turn, this demonstrates the police’s negligence, and outright corruption.
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Mars tells Marlowe indirectly that he knows the detective got information from the Missing Persons Bureau already. Marlowe asks Mars if he killed Rusty Regan, at which Mars laughs, denying it. Marlowe laughs too, saying he knows Mars doesn’t have men who could take Regan on.
Mars has an informant even within the Missing Persons Bureau, a niche area, meaning his network is wide, making him yet more secure in his social standing. It is unsurprising then, that Eddie is not a suspect in Rusty’s disappearance, though Marlowe also discounts this theory.
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Sipping his drink, Mars asks Marlowe if he’s looking for Rusty Regan. Marlowe responds noncommittally, adding that General Sternwood would like to know where Rusty is, rather than Mrs. Regan.
Although warming to each other, both men are still on the defense. They both still want information from each other, and don’t want to divulge too many of their own secrets.
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Marlowe explains he wants to rule Rusty Regan out of the blackmail story. Mars tells the detective that Geiger tried the blackmail angle on anyone he could.
Although it is not Marlowe’s direct duty, he wants to ensure he has covered all the aspects of his case, as he knows there are always more layers behind criminal activity than what meets the eye.
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Mars tells Marlowe that he wishes General Sternwood would keep someone like Marlowe on salary to control his girls. He explains that on balance he loses money to someone like Mrs. Regan because of the way she gambles so much, without much personal income.
Mars intends to compliment Marlowe’s abilities, but his comment classes the detective as a hired underling rather than an active player in the wider game of life itself. It is Sternwood’s interests that Marlowe focuses on, rather than his own, because Sternwood pays him.
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Marlowe says he’s going to see the casino for himself. Mars announces the two men are friends, and Marlowe agrees. Mars offers Marlowe a favor in future, without needing to go through Gregory. Marlowe says he knew Mars had him paid off.
Marlowe does not seem the type to have many friends, and his agreement with Mars is no doubt part manners, part cynical attempt to stay on the right side of this high-level racketeer, who has bought out police captains. 
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As he leaves, Marlowe asks Mars if he’s having the detective tailed by the gray sedan. Mars seems worried, denying all knowledge of this.
Marlowe’s mysterious tailer remains an unknown quantity, and Mars’s genuine surprise in turn worries Marlowe.
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