The Big Sleep

Carmen Sternwood Character Analysis

General Sternwood’s younger daughter. Philip Marlowe discovers at the end of the novel that Carmen is mentally ill and killed Rusty Regan, her older sister Vivian Regan’s husband, in a fit of rage. Carmen at one point also tries to kill Marlowe, shooting at him in revenge for refusing her sexual advances. Early in the novel, Carmen poses naked for Arthur Gwynn Geiger while intoxicated and is present at his murder at the hands of the family driver Owen Taylor, who is in love with her. Marlowe describes Carmen as a “pretty, spoiled and not very bright little girl who had gone very, very wrong, and nobody was doing anything about it.” As such, she symbolizes the wider moral decay in American society as the fault of responsible authorities who neglect their duties.

Carmen Sternwood Quotes in The Big Sleep

The The Big Sleep quotes below are all either spoken by Carmen Sternwood or refer to Carmen Sternwood. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of The Big Sleep published in 1939.
Chapter 12 Quotes

A pretty, spoiled and not very bright little girl who had gone very, very wrong, and nobody was doing anything about it. To hell with the rich. They made me sick.

Related Characters: Philip Marlowe (speaker), Carmen Sternwood, Arthur Gwynn Geiger
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 18 Quotes

I’ve done all my office permits—and maybe a good deal more—to save the old man from grief. But in the long run it can’t be done. Those girls of his are bound certain to hook up with something that can't be hushed, especially that little blonde brat. They ought not to be running around loose. I blame the old man for that.

Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 21 Quotes

I wish old Sternwood would hire himself a soldier like you on a straight salary, to keep those girls of his home at least a few nights a week.

Related Symbols: Knights, Money
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 24 Quotes

I looked down at the chessboard. The move with the knight was wrong. I put it back where I had moved it from. Knights had no meaning in this game. It wasn’t a game for knights.

Related Characters: Philip Marlowe (speaker), Carmen Sternwood
Related Symbols: Knights
Page Number: Book Page 156
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 25 Quotes

You can have a hangover from other things than alcohol. I had one from women. Women made me sick.

Related Characters: Philip Marlowe (speaker), Vivian Regan, Carmen Sternwood
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:
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Carmen Sternwood Character Timeline in The Big Sleep

The timeline below shows where the character Carmen Sternwood appears in The Big Sleep. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
...the stairs, and the butler leads Marlowe away toward General Sternwood, explaining Marlowe just met Carmen Sternwood. (full context)
Chapter 2 
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...time was by a man called Joe Brody, whom the General paid off to leave Carmen alone. The General gives Marlowe the envelope with a threat inside: a note from an... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
The General explains he will not talk to Carmen about it, as she would just make a face at him. Marlowe asks for more... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...have their own money. Vivian has a little from her mother, while her younger sister Carmen is not yet old enough to enter her inheritance. They both have allowances. (full context)
Chapter 6
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
...woman drives up and enters Geiger’s house. Marlowe searches the newly arrived car and finds Carmen’s registration, before going back to his own car to wait. (full context)
Chapter 7
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
...features East Asian decorations, similar to Geiger’s store, and Marlowe takes in every detail. Inside, Carmen is sitting on a throne-like chair, naked. She is awake but seems to not be... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Masculinity Theme Icon
...of the jug, Marlowe thinks the exotic drink matches Geiger’s usual tastes. The detective finds Carmen’s clothes and, in an attempt to bring her back to consciousness, he slaps her, dresses... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Masculinity Theme Icon
Seeing that Carmen cannot be roused, Marlowe lays her on the divan and gathers her things. Marlowe checks... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Marlowe arrives at the Sternwood mansion and leaves the unconscious Carmen in the capable hands of Mr. Norris and the maid Mathilda. The detective turns down... (full context)
Chapter 9
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
...identified him because he has a criminal record and had tried to run away with Carmen the previous year. (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
The story goes, Carmen and Owen ran off to Yuma, but Mrs. Regan went and fetched them back. Mrs.... (full context)
Chapter 11
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
...reveal sympathy for the dead boy. They discuss Owen’s past, including the attempted elopement with Carmen and his police record. Mrs. Regan says the record just means he “didn’t know the... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
...Owen. She passes Marlowe an envelope, out of which the detective pulls a photograph of Carmen from the night before, naked on the chair in Geiger’s house. (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Responding to Marlowe’s questions, Mrs. Regan explains Carmen was home ill last night, while she was losing at roulette at Eddie Mars’s casino.... (full context)
Chapter 12
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...time of the murder; he won’t get a chance to do so now, however, as Carmen is skulking around the front door when he arrives. She is nervous and looks tired.... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Carmen can’t keep up her smile, which keeps faltering. Her eyes are vacant. Marlowe sees that... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Marlowe asks Carmen why she is there and how much she remembers. She claims she was sick at... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Carmen asks Marlowe who else knows about the previous night. He says the police don’t, or... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Marlowe doubts Carmen’s honesty. She says she hates Joe Brody, which Marlowe points out gives her the motive... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Carmen’s laughter becomes hysterical, echoing around the house. Marlowe slaps her. She stops laughing but otherwise... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Carmen tells Marlowe she knows his real name and that he’s a detective, as Mrs. Regan... (full context)
Masculinity Theme Icon
As Carmen puts her hand on the door, they hear a car approach. They hear footsteps and... (full context)
Chapter 13
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
...dressed smartly in an all gray suit. He takes his hat off when he sees Carmen. Marlowe sees that Mars is no regular “tough man.” Mars closes the door and steps... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Masculinity Theme Icon
Mars asks if Geiger is home. Marlowe says he and Carmen are business acquaintances who found the door open and stepped inside; they don’t know where... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...Mars, who asks Marlowe’s name. The detective responds truthfully and claims he had come with Carmen to talk to Geiger about settling a blackmail dispute. Marlowe asks Mars why he had... (full context)
Chapter 14
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...shouts, “That goddamned little hot pants!” Marlowe can see Brody has jumped to thinking of Carmen, so the detective responds that he knew Brody had the photos from that night. (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...Brody begins to deny having the photos, but Marlowe says he must have known that Carmen was there, meaning Brody was also there, or at least got the camera’s plate holder... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Brody demands money for the naked photos of Carmen from the night Geiger was shot. Marlowe refuses. Brody asks how the detective found him... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...which they deny, insisting they weren’t there the previous night. Marlowe says he could talk Carmen out of her accusation that Brody is behind the murder if Brody were to give... (full context)
Chapter 15
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As Brody opens the door, he is instantly sent walking backward: Carmen is on the other side and is pointing a gun at his face. As Agnes... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Carmen and Brody ignore Agnes and Marlowe’s fight, and Carmen demands her photos from Brody. She... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Brody tries and fails to grab Carmen’s gun, which  she then shoots through a window pane. Brody falls to the floor, tripping... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Marlowe makes Brody hand over the photos and the negatives. The detective pockets them and Carmen leaves, flirting with Marlowe as she goes. She kisses him on the mouth as she... (full context)
Chapter 16
Masculinity Theme Icon
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.”... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Masculinity Theme Icon
With Carmen’s gun in his hand, Marlowe asks the figure for a light, and recognizes the good-looking... (full context)
Chapter 18
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Marlowe tells the room of policeman everything that had happened, apart from Carmen threatening Joe Brody and Eddie Mars showing up at Geiger’s house. (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Marlowe puts all the evidence on the table: Geiger’s blackmail letter, Carmen’s photos, and Geiger’s blue notebook. Looking at Geiger’s note, Wilde opines that Geiger was probably... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
...and Wilde himself has often done much to help the “old man,” but his daughters (Carmen and Mrs. Regan) are wild and it’s their father’s fault. Wilde adds the General is... (full context)
Chapter 19
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...to fight, so he leaves. Left in peace, Marlowe gets into his apartment and cleans Carmen’s gun. (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...to Mr. Norris. He leaves a message for Mrs. Regan that he has all of Carmen’s nude photos. The butler sounds relieved. (full context)
Chapter 23
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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... (full context)
Chapter 24
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...he can sense that something is not right. He turns on the light, and sees Carmen in his bed. (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Marlowe turns on more lights and moves a knight on his chessboard. Meanwhile, Carmen is giggling from the bed. She tells him she is naked. She sweeps away the... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Exasperated, Marlowe tells Carmen to get dressed. He explains he has a professional duty to General Sternwood. Marlowe looks... (full context)
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Walking into the kitchen to make a drink, Marlowe promises Carmen she can have a drink if she dresses herself. When he returns she is still... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
...surrounded by his few possessions, which nevertheless carry emotional meaning, Marlowe becomes angry. He threatens Carmen to dress and leave or he’ll throw her out naked. She storms out, and Marlowe... (full context)
Chapter 31
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...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. (full context)
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Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Carmen asks Marlowe to teach her to shoot, down by the old oil wells. Marlowe asks... (full context)
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Marlowe gives Carmen the gun and goes to set up a tin can as a target. He tells... (full context)
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Masculinity Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 32
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...by the maid Mathilda. Mrs. Regan calls him a “brute” for killing Canino and terrifying Carmen into a fit. Marlowe asks how Carmen is doing, and Mrs. Regan replies that she... (full context)
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Marlowe tells Mrs. Regan he returned Carmen’s gun to her, and Mrs. Regan falls silent. He explains they went down to the... (full context)
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Marlowe tells Mrs. Regan that Carmen fired all five bullets in her gun at him, but he had swapped them for... (full context)
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Instead, Marlowe is talking about when Rusty went missing. When Carmen shot him in anger too, anger for being turned down. Marlowe describes finding Carmen in... (full context)
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Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Unable to respond, Mrs. Regan remains silent. Marlowe tells her just to take Carmen away to an institution where she’ll be safe. Mrs. Regan confesses, to hiding Rusty’s body... (full context)
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Marlowe repeats his order, to take Carmen away. Mrs. Regan agrees, asking what he will do, as Eddie will want to kill... (full context)