The Big Sleep

General Sternwood Character Analysis

An elderly, rich former general whose family made their money in the oilfields near his L.A. mansion. Sternwood is being blackmailed by Arthur Gwynn Geiger and, on the recommendation of his friend and district attorney Taggart Wilde, hires private detective Philip Marlowe to look into the situation. Marlow learns that the General also had a strong bond with his missing son-in-law Rusty Regan, husband of the general’s eldest daughter, Vivian Regan. But General Sternwood does not directly ask the detective to follow up that case at first; later, when Marlowe starts to investigate Regan’s disappearance too, the general offers the detective $1,000 if he can find Rusty. Sternwood is severely ill and dying. His lower body was crushed in a horse racing accident many years before and he now spends his time either in bed or in his scorching orchid greenhouse, waited on by his butler Mr. Norris. Bed-bound but with pull in the city police department, Sternwood represents the elite class who are involved with the city’s underworld from a distance, with their names always kept out of the papers by influential friends.

General Sternwood Quotes in The Big Sleep

The The Big Sleep quotes below are all either spoken by General Sternwood or refer to General 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 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:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Big Sleep quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Chapter 20 Quotes

“General Sternwood’s a rich man,” I said. “He’s an old friend of the D.A.’s father. If he wants to hire a fulltime boy to run errands for him, that’s no reflection on the police. It’s just a luxury he is able to afford himself.”

Related Characters: Philip Marlowe (speaker), General Sternwood, Captain Al Gregory
Related Symbols: Knights, Money
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 23 Quotes

“We’re his blood. That’s the hell of it.” She stared at me in the mirror with deep, distant eyes. “I don’t want him to die despising his own blood. It was always wild blood, but it wasn’t always rotten blood.”

Related Characters: Vivian Regan (speaker), Philip Marlowe, General Sternwood
Page Number: Book Page 148
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 30 Quotes

The knight in the stained-glass window still wasn’t getting anywhere untying the naked damsel from the tree.

Related Characters: Philip Marlowe (speaker), General Sternwood
Related Symbols: Knights
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 32 Quotes

Me, I was part of the nastiness now … But the old man didn’t have to be. He could lie quiet in his canopied bed, with his bloodless hands folded on the sheet, waiting.

Related Characters: Philip Marlowe (speaker), General Sternwood
Related Symbols: Money
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire The Big Sleep LitChart as a printable PDF.
The big sleep.pdf.medium

General Sternwood Character Timeline in The Big Sleep

The timeline below shows where the character General 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
...walks in. The woman disappears up the stairs, and the butler leads Marlowe away toward General Sternwood, explaining Marlowe just met Carmen Sternwood. (full context)
Chapter 2 
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Masculinity Theme Icon
...is swelteringly hot and humid inside, and filled with orchids. At the center, frail old General Sternwood is sitting in his wheelchair, unable to feel the heat. Sternwood offers Marlowe a... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
The General asks Marlowe to introduce himself. He says that he is 33, somewhat educated, a former... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Marlowe tells the General what he knows of the Sternwood family: that the General is a widower, with two... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
But the General’s main point is that he’s being blackmailed, “again.” The first time was by a man... (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... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Marlowe advises the General to pay off the blackmailer, as it is not a large amount of money, and... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Marlowe says he is willing to look into Geiger for the General. He charges $25 a day and expenses. The General says he’s willing to leave the... (full context)
Chapter 3
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Mrs. Regan asks Marlowe’s opinion of her father, General Sternwood. Marlowe responds politely but she pushes further, asking if they discussed her missing husband,... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...found his car in a private garage. Marlowe tells her he is not looking for Rusty—General Sternwood called him on other business. Marlowe leaves, taking his hat from Mr. Norris in... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...grounds toward his car. Marlowe thinks about Mrs. Regan’s legs, and how she and the General have more to them than meets the eye. He thinks the old man has set... (full context)
Chapter 9
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
...police don’t know about it yet. Chief Investigator Bernie Ohls—the man who had initially put General Sternwood in contact with Marlowe—calls the detective on his home phone line. (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
...him to “leave the old man out of it.” Ohls thinks Marlowe is sympathetic that General Sternwood is missing Regan, but Marlowe responds that he doesn’t care about that case. Ohls... (full context)
Chapter 11
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
...like to play games to lose—like marrying a husband who goes missing, or, in the General’s case, being crippled by a falling race horse in his fifties. (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
...raise the $5,000, which she thinks she might have to borrow instead of asking the General for it. She says Eddie Mars might lend it to her. (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
As Marlowe sees Mrs. Regan to the door, she asks again what the General has hired Marlowe for. She flirts with Marlowe a little but he doesn’t take the... (full context)
Chapter 16
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Chapter 18
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
...Geiger’s blue notebook. Looking at Geiger’s note, Wilde opines that Geiger was probably seeing if General Sternwood was scared. If the General paid up, Geiger would have begun to really work... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Wilde tells Marlowe that his father was good friends with General Sternwood, and Wilde himself has often done much to help the “old man,” but his... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Marlowe explains that the General had bonded with Rusty and simply wishes to know he is well. That changes Wilde’s... (full context)
Chapter 20
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...across a desk from him. Marlowe is asking the Captain for help on behalf of General Sternwood, but isn’t being specific about what he is working on. Seeing the Captain’s frustration,... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...Marlowe, Gregory asks if he’s after information on Rusty Regan. Marlowe replies “sure.” Gregory thinks General Sternwood should let the matter rest rather than get Marlowe involved, but the private detective... (full context)
Chapter 21
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Mars tells Marlowe that he wishes General Sternwood would keep someone like Marlowe on salary to control his girls. He explains that... (full context)
Chapter 23
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
...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.” (full context)
Chapter 24
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 at his chessboard and moves the knight back. (full context)
Chapter 25
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Masculinity Theme Icon
In his office, Marlowe finds his check from General Sternwood. The small man enters Marlowe’s office, and introduces himself as Harry Jones. They both... (full context)
Chapter 30
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
...phone rings. The Sternwoods’ butler, Norris, is calling to invite Marlowe to a meeting with General Sternwood. Marlowe makes himself presentable and drives straight over. (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Norris greets Marlowe and leads him to General Sternwood’s room, where the old man is resting in bed at midday. The general tells... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
The General asks Marlowe why he went to see Captain Gregory. Marlowe tells Sternwood he thought the... (full context)
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
The General tells Marlowe to see the job through, offering the detective $1,000 if he can find... (full context)
Chapter 31
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Chapter 32
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...ties together: Eddie Mars was behind Geiger’s blackmail scheme, because he wanted to know if General Sternwood was hiding anything. If not, he would have to wait until Mrs. Regan got... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
...calling in Eddie to help her. She says she did it to hide it from General Sternwood. She doesn’t care if Eddie bleeds her white. Mostly, she drinks a lot to... (full context)
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
...end up after death—“you were sleeping the big sleep,” no longer involved in the “nastiness.” General Sternwood is far distant from the “nastiness,” alone in his bed. Once back in town,... (full context)