The Big Sleep


Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep: Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Norris brings Marlowe his hat as he leaves, saying the General is not as weak as he looks. Marlowe walks out the front door, and sees Carmen sitting on the front steps. He approaches her and returns her gun.
Marlowe seems to have let his guard down, as he has never handed anyone a gun so far. Yet the gun belongs to Carmen and so it is rightfully hers. Thus, by his own moral code, Marlowe cannot keep it.
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Carmen asks Marlowe to teach her to shoot, down by the old oil wells. Marlowe asks for the gun back until they’re in a safe place to practice. They drive downhill for ten minutes to a secluded location. The pollution and rusted waste materials from previous industry make for a depressing environment.
The grim destruction of this now rotting environment references the moral decay of the Sternwood family, who made their fortune by creating this pollution.
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Marlowe gives Carmen the gun and goes to set up a tin can as a target. He tells her to be careful as its fully loaded. As Marlowe walks back to her, Carmen begins to hiss and points the gun at him.
In an uncharacteristic expression of trust, Marlowe leaves himself completely open to attack, of which Carmen unexpectedly takes full advantage.
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With the gun pointed at his chest, Marlowe laughs and walks toward Carmen. She fires four times before he gets to her, and a fifth time close to his face. Seeing that she still hasn’t hit him, Carmen begins to foam at the mouth and seize up. Marlowe catches her. He puts the now unconscious Carmen in his car and drives back up to the Sternwood mansion.
Yet Marlowe has not actually let his guard down at all. He remains in control the whole time and Carmen is unable to shoot him. Her shock at her failure brings on a fit, and he drives her home, still the perfect gentleman despite her betrayal.
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