Summary of "The Big Sleep"

Essay by LL94588University, Bachelor'sA+, February 2006

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This is a captivating story about a detective, Philip Marlowe, who is basically a quintessential knight errant. The reader is first introduced to him as he is entering the Sternwood mansion and is about to be hired by General Sternwood. The introduction is mesmeric, "The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the visor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him.

He didn't seem to be really trying".

General Sternwood, although elderly and frail, has two young daughters. Daughters who are frequently getting into trouble. General Sternwood hires detective Marlowe to resolve an alleged issue of some gambling debts incurred by Carmen, the youngest daughter. At the same time, General Sternwood mentions, but does not ask, detective Marlowe to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his son-in-law, an ex-IRA officer of whom General Sternwood was extremely fond.

Marlowe's investigation leads him into a litter of corpses, a pornography ring, thickets of mobsters and dirty cops, and the increasing realization that Carmen Sternwood, though childlike, is not innocent. Marlowe's ideals run up against the pervasive corruption of modern Los Angeles. Returning home to his apartment one night, Marlowe finds Carmen naked in his bed. While attempting to get rid...