The Big Sleep


Raymond Chandler

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Themes and Colors
The Corruption of Society Theme Icon
Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility Theme Icon
Cynicism and Survival Theme Icon
Masculinity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Big Sleep, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Corruption of Society

Raymond Chandler’s crime noir novel The Big Sleep deals with the dark underbelly of L.A. society. As private detective Philip Marlowe digs ever deeper into this grim world to find out who is blackmailing one of his clients, he becomes increasingly disgusted with what he uncovers. This is not only because of the illegal activities he finds embedded throughout every level of society, but also because of all the supposedly respectable figures he discovers are…

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Wealth, Status, and Social Mobility

Every character in The Big Sleep fits into a specific socioeconomic class, which determines their respective roles in the dark underworld of 1930s L.A. During his mission to find out who is blackmailing his client, private detective Philip Marlowe meets a wide range of characters and sees firsthand how wealth and status give clear advantages to the figures running the city’s various rackets. Meanwhile those who start out with nothing struggle immensely to improve…

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Cynicism and Survival

In The Big Sleep, author Raymond Chandler represents life in the dark, criminal world of 1930s L.A. as total war. In doing so, he critiques a self-serving and mistrustful American society in which people turn to violence and dishonesty to achieve personal gain. As Philip Marlowe works a blackmail case for his rich client General Sternwood, he uncovers illegal and immoral activities that “make him sick.” One of Marlowe’s respectable client’s own daughters…

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In The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler glorifies private detective Philip Marlowe as an iconic American masculine hero. However, Marlowe’s sexist and homophobic prejudices reveal that his gender identity comes at the expense of women and nontraditionally masculine men, as well as Marlowe’s own well-being. Marlowe’s prejudices cause him great suffering, as the weight of upholding his own strict standards separates him even from potential allies; for instance, Marlowe scorns “little man” Harry Jones on…

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