Storms and rain symbolize impending trouble throughout The Big Sleep, the ominous weather building tension as the plot moves toward its two main deadly climaxes. As Marlowe meets with his client General Sternwood in the opening pages of the novel, a storm is brewing in the foothills behind the Sternwood mansion. This suggests that trouble is on the way, darkening the horizon as Marlowe agrees to take on a case that will see him beaten, shot at, tied up, and on the wrong side of the city police. Rain notably starts to fall as Marlowe tails Sternwood’s blackmailer, Arthur Gwynn Geiger. Following Geiger back to his house, Marlowe notes a camera flash goes off within the house “like a wave of summer lightning,” the climax before three shots ring out from inside and Geiger falls to the floor. Later in the novel, the rain returns as Marlowe approaches Mona Mars’s hiding place, anticipating a showdown with her lethal bodyguard Lash Canino. Marlowe notably kills his adversary amid a dramatic deluge. Yet just as Marlowe cannot control the torrential rain ripping through the roof of his convertible, neither can he control the wider immoral climate of 1930s L.A., as the city sweeps Marlowe away in its tide of “nastiness” just as it does everyone else.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Rain and Storms appears in The Big Sleep. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...Mrs. Regan’s vast upper sitting room, decorated in white and ivory, Marlowe can see the storm approaching through the window. The detective looks at Mrs. Regan, whom he thinks is “trouble.”... (full context)