The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Marlowe hears an unseen woman approaching. The man steps out, brandishes a gun, and demands the bag that the woman is holding. With the bag in hand, the man passes the spot where Marlowe is hiding; the detective holds his pipe like a gun and calls out to the man, telling him to drop the bag. After the man drops the bag, Marlowe takes a gun out of the man’s pocket. Marlowe tells the man to leave, and he runs off.
His suspicion of the character at first glance has allowed Marlowe to maintain his characteristic cool, as he takes control of a potentially life and death situation despite being outgunned. Saving this damsel in distress feeds into Marlowe’s heroically masculine characterization, drawing on traditional concepts of knights.
Themes
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Masculinity Theme Icon
Marlowe picks up the bag and returns it to the woman, who it turns out is Mrs. Regan. She quips that the detective is now her bodyguard. Mrs. Regan asks why he is here and Marlowe gives evasive answers about telling Mars that the detective is not interested in Rusty Regan.
Despite just having saved her, Marlowe does not consider Mrs. Regan an ally, remaining ambiguous in his responses. This man trusts no one, though it seems he will help anyone that needs assistance.
Themes
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Mrs. Regan and Marlowe walk to the garage, where Mrs. Regan’s escort Larry Cobb is drunk and asleep in his car. Cobb drove himself rather than bringing a driver, meaning Mrs. Regan is stranded. She pays an assistant to look after her unconscious boyfriend. Mrs. Regan instructs Marlowe to drive her home.
Her missing husband is no barrier to Mrs. Regan’s self-assured sexuality, as she openly dates other men, despite being a married woman. Her confidence reflects the security of her social position.
Themes
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Marlowe leads Mrs. Regan to his car. He drives toward home, and after a while stops at a drugstore to get Mrs. Regan a drink. They sit on two stools and order coffee to go with the whiskey. The clerk tells them they can’t drink there but they ignore him.
No one really expects the clerk’s nagging to prevent Mrs. Regan and Marlowe from drinking in the pharmacy whether it is illegal or not. The pettiness of the rule pales in comparison with the greater crimes they have witnessed, even this week.
Themes
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
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While he pours the whiskey, Marlowe tells Mrs. Regan that Mars’s casino was guarded by police during Prohibition. He asks her what Eddie Mars is holding over her, but she avoids the question. Instead, he asks how much General Sternwood knows. Mrs. Regan figures District Attorney Wilde tells the General everything.
In the clearest sign yet of the rampant corruption in the city, Eddie Mars’s police guard demonstrates the officials’ and authority figures’ lack of accountability, given their flagrant negligence of duty. As well as controlling the police, Eddie also has some kind of hold over Mrs. Regan, Marlowe perceives, although she doesn’t trust him enough to confide in him.
Themes
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Mrs. Regan tells Marlowe that she worries about her sister Carmen all the time, and often keeps things from General Sternwood so he won’t know that his blood is “rotten.”
Not for the first time, Mrs. Regan reveals her moral compass, although she doesn’t follow its direction. Her shame shows she respects her family name, and knows she is tarnishing it.
Themes
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Mrs. Regan accuses Marlowe of being “a killer.” He explains he didn’t kill Geiger or Brody, though he would have if needed. Mrs. Regan says that makes him “a killer at heart, like all cops.” She suggests they leave “this rotten little town.”
Familiar with the brutal realities of life and death in the city, Mrs. Regan declares that all cops, and Marlowe, are killers. She despairs of the city’s law enforcement, depicting the whole of society—both cops and criminals—as wicked.
Themes
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Marlowe pays and he and Mrs. Regan get back in the car. They drive along a coast road. After a while Mrs. Regan asks Marlowe to stop at a viewpoint overlooking the sea. Other cars are parked in the same area. Once parked, Mrs. Regan tells Marlowe to move closer. They kiss, and she again calls him “killer.”
Her perception of Marlowe’s moral deficiencies does not deter Mrs. Regan’s interest, who after all married a criminal. Instead, she seems desensitized, or even actively attracted to the idea of Marlowe’s immorality, a characterization based on her own assumptions.
Themes
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Mrs. Regan asks Marlowe to drive to his apartment. He again asks her what Eddie Mars is holding over her. Mrs. Regan becomes angry, and swears at Marlowe. They squabble. Marlowe explains the attempted robbery was faked, and he wants to know why Eddie lets her win just to steal it back. Mrs. Regan says she would kill Marlowe if she had a weapon.
Even sharing a kiss cannot bring these two headstrong characters to a truce. Marlowe admits to enjoying the kiss, but allowed it to happen only to see if Mrs. Regan would let her guard down and give him the information he wants. The detective remains focused on his end goal: seeing the case solved to his standard.
Themes
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Marlowe and Mrs. Regan are silent the whole drive back to the Sternwood mansion. After dropping off Mrs. Regan, Marlowe drives back to his own apartment, alone.  
With the battle lines redrawn, neither Mrs. Regan nor Marlowe are willing to let their guard down and reveal information the other is seeking. They realize the other is not willing to give them what they want, so they have nothing left to say to the other.
Themes
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon