Unequal and Opposite
The use of light and dark in The Big Sleep is just one example of the many contrasts that exist within the novel, which are all extensions of the examination of the American underbelly: for every mansion there is a slum, for every crook a cop (though often with little to choose between them), and for every millionaire there is a penniless grifter: "I been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate," says Joe Brody, despite the fact General Sternwood had signed a cheque to him for five thousand dollars "about nine or ten months ago." Clearly money doesn't last long for a gambling crook in Los Angeles. Marlowe may make an effort when he first calls on the Sternwood mansion - "neat, clean, shaved and sober" - but his office is shabby, full of "venerable magazines" and "net curtains that needed laundering". And at their mansion the Sternwoods "could no longer smell the stale sump water or the oil, but they could still look out their front windows and see what had made them rich. If they wanted to." Other than a nod towards his former career, Chandler is drawing attention to how the rich have attempted to protect themselves from gritty reality. The General sits in his orchid-filled greenhouse and despatches Marlowe to solve his problems. And yet, even in respectable places, something rotten lurks just beneath the surface. The General may be rich, but he clearly is not without trouble, mainly it seems created by his daughters. As Vivian says, "We're his blood. That's the hell of it... I don't want him to die despising his own blood. It was always wild blood, but it wasn't always rotten blood." And as Marlowe comments on Geiger's street, "It seemed like a nice neighbourhood to have bad habits in." To reverse the contrast, where corruption predominates there is a reminder of a faded nobility. Eddie Mars' Cypress Club is in a "rambling frame mansion" that was once a rich man's home, became a hotel, and ended up as an illegal casino. The club has about it "a general air of nostalgic decay"; the ballroom is "still a beautiful room," but there is a "roulette in it instead of measured, old-fashioned dancing."
At the root of all of this is, of course, money, which Marlowe has a certain contempt for. "I take twenty- five a day and expenses - when I'm lucky," says Marlowe - very reasonable, considering the situations he puts himself in in the service of his employer. He regards the General's payment of five hundred dollars as "more than generous", and doesn't hesitate to spend two hundred of it on information that could lead to finding Regan - despite not being directly asked to do so by the General. Getting the job done properly is far more important to Marlowe than the financial reward. Indeed, he even offers to return the five hundred to the General at a point where he feels he has done an "unsatisfactory job... It may mean noting to you. It might mean something to me." Essentially, he has little time for the money and the attitudes of the rich, which only seem to bring trouble. When Vivian offers him fifteen thousand dollars to keep quiet about Carmen's murder of Regan, he is unimpressed, despite the fact that with that money he "could own a home and a new car and four suits of clothes". "That would be about right. That would be the established fee. That was what he had in his pockets when she shot him. That would be what Mr Canino got for disposing of the body when you went to Eddie Mars for help. But that would be small change to what Eddie expects to collect one of these days." Unlike the crooks, Marlowe cannot be bought so easily. And, after encountering Carmen for the third time, Marlowe is scornful of what money has allowed her to become: "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." Chandler later wrote that "Philip Marlowe and I do not despise the upper classes because they take baths and have money; we despise them because they are phoney."Will the Real Philip Marlowe Please Stand Up
So much of the world Marlowe inhabits is 'phoney': beneath the surface people are not what they purport to be. But within all this, Marlowe manages to maintain a certain, though certainly not total, integrity about him. However, the exact nature of the character is sometimes hard to pinpoint - often due to the lack of direct information we receive about him, and sometimes because of the apparent contradictions in his character.
Physically, we know that he is tall - as Carmen repeatedly observes: "Tall, aren't you?" "I didn't mean to be," he replies. However, the physical image of Marlowe as Chandler envisaged him, has been affected by his screen representations. For many, Humphrey Bogart became the archetypal Marlowe after the 1946 movie of The Big Sleep. Even Chandler was of the opinion that for the rest of his career Bogart retained "something of Marlowe. He never lost it." And indeed vice versa. It was fitting that Bogart should
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