The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler Fracturing the Foundations
Victorian Era critiquing certain aspects of the Romantic ideology :the search for transcendence, the Romantic hero, the self-exile of the creator, the Promethean myth domestic novels instead underscore middle-class values: domesticity, duty, responsibility, work, conservative social reform, empiricism, utilitarianism, and realism "Angel in the House," the perfect self-sacrificing and self-disciplining domestic housewife, who is implicitly or explicitly contrasted to the demonic whore-woman - two possibilities for female subjectivity
Modern Era & Modernism the period from about 1898 to the second world war a time of wild experimentation in literature, music, art, and even politics still a belief in concepts such as truth and progress; however, the means taken to achieve utopic goals are often extreme revolutionary political movements as fascism, nazism, communism, anarchism
Modern Era & Modernism Various groups establish bold manifestos outlining their visions for an improved future Rise of the ‘ism’: surrealism, dadaism, cubism, futurism, expressionism, existentialism, primitivism, minimalism this radicalism is driven by a sense that Enlightenment values may be suspect.
Modern Era & Modernism Modernists therefore participate in a general questioning of all the values held dear by the Victorian period (narrative, referentiality, religion, progress, bourgeois domesticity, capitalism, utilitarianism, decorum, empire, industry Many modernists also tend to take the Romantic exploration of the irrational, the primitive, and the unconscious to darker extremes there is a fear that things have gone off track
Modern Era & Modernism the features of modernist aesthetic work include: self-reflexivity an exploration of psychological and subjective states alternative ways of thinking about representation radical experimentation in form fragmentation in form and representation extreme ambiguity and simultaneity in structure some experimentation in the breakdown between high and low forms the use of parody and ironyin artistic creation
Context While Chandler was penning his novel in the late 1930s, the United States was attempting to recover from the depression that had economically devastated the country since 1929. Unemployment during the 1930s reached a high of 25%.
Context Farmers were especially hard hit during the 1930s, and many from Midwestern "Dust Bowl" states such as Oklahoma and Missouri (so named because of the drought and dust storms that hit that area in the 1930s) moved to California hoping for work and a better life. On the outskirts of Marlowe's Los Angeles and in the fertile valleys of the state, migrant workers picked lemons, potatoes, cotton, peas, and other crops, going wherever there was work.
Context The literature of the 1930s explored issues of integrity and honour - featured characters who pitted themselves against larger forces such as corporations and fascism.
Prohibition: “The movement was undertaken to reduce crime and corruption, improve health, solve social problems and reduce the tax burden created by prisons and poorhouses.”
Context In the Great Depression the American dream had become a nightmare. What was once the land of opportunity was now the land of desperation. What was once the land of hope and optimism had become the land of despair. The American people were questioning all the maxims on which they had based their lives - democracy, capitalism, individualism. The best hope for a better life was California.
Context Dominated by the Great Depression, the 1930s was a bleak, morally vengeful time, when things were seen as very black and white. Which they were. Times were tough, and enemies (Stalin, Hitler, etc.) were demonic. Little wonder that the period was known for censorship, drug war hysteria, and hard-core authoritarianism. "Progress" meant "change." A new, schmaltzy and moralistic authoritarianism replaced the freewheelingly chaotic, laissez faire 1920s, and this is reflected culturally in films and music of the period.
September 1, 1939 - W.H. Auden I sit in one of the divesOn Fifty-second StreetUncertain and afraidAs the clever hopes expireOf a low dishonest decade: Waves of anger and fear Circulate over the brightAnd darkened lands of the earth, Obsessing our private lives;The unmentionable odour of death Offends the September night.
Into this neutral airWhere blind skyscrapers use Their full height to proclaim The strength of Collective Man, Each language pours its vain Competitive excuse:But who can live for longIn an euphoric dream;Out of the mirror they stare, Imperialism's faceAnd the international wrong.
Faces along the barCling to their average day:The lights must never go out,The music must always play,All the conventions conspireTo make this fort assumeThe furniture of home;Lest we should see where we are, Lost in a haunted wood,Children afraid of the nightWho have never been happy or good.
From the conservative darkInto the ethical lifeThe dense commuters come,Repeating their morning vow;'I will be true to the wife,I'll concentrate more on my work,'And helpless governors wakeTo resume their compulsory game: Who can release them now,Who can reach the dead,Who can speak for the dumb?
All I have is a voiceTo undo the folded lie,The romantic lie in the brainOf the sensual man-in-the-street And the lie of AuthorityWhose buildings grope the sky: There is no such thing as the State And no one exists alone;Hunger allows no choiceTo the citizen or the police;We must love one another or die.
Defenseless under the nightOur world in stupor lies;Yet, dotted everywhere,Ironic points of lightFlash out wherever the JustExchange their messages:May I, composed like themOf Eros and of dust,Beleaguered by the sameNegation and despair,Show an affirming flame.
Modernism In the aftermath of WWI, continental Europe was physically devastated and psychologically disillusioned in an unprecedented way. A wide variety of new and experimental techniques arose in art, literature, architecture, dance, music and sculpture.
Modernism Modernism exploded onto the international scene and artists attempted to liberate themselves from the constraints and polite conventions associated with Victorianism. Modernist authors sought to break away from traditions and conventions through experimentation with forms, devices and styles.
Modernism The tightening of form: an emphasis on cohesion, interrelatedness and depth in the structure of the text. They incorporated the new psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and Gustav Jung. The (re)presentation of inner (psychological) reality, including the 'flow' of experience, through devices such as stream of consciousness and symbolism.
Modernism They perceived the world as fragmented and emphasised historical discontinuity and the alienation of humanity from tradition and institutions. Such writers viewed art as a potentially integrating, restorative force, a remedy for the uncertainty of the modern world.
Modernism To this end, even while depicting disorder in their works, modernists also injected order by creating patterns of allusion, symbol and myth. This exalted view of art fostered a certain elitism among modernists.
Function & Characteristics of Crime Fiction Vehicle for critical commentary on society & concerns. Response to alienation and isolation. Response to mass culture. Attempt to find answers in an irrational world? Reinforcement of moral law. Restoration of status quo? Explore questions of identity.
Function & Characteristics of Crime Fiction Reading Practices – meaning often contextual – levels of uncertainty Vicarious experience of destabilisation Explores effects of transgression – on the individual and the society Exploration of the concept of judgement? Fictions of crime offer myths of the experience of modernity Affirmation of code of conduct and status quo Questioning of morality (Ripley – Highsmith) Detective as embodiment of the rational principle
The Big Sleep Crime is epidemic Cannot restore Focus on ‘hero’ within dysfunctional world – Professional pride = chivalric code? Bildungsroman – Marlowe learns about the moral illness of the modern world & himself Loaded with paranoia Gender representations
Sleep continued City milieu as character Detective is meant to mete out justice - law is too unwieldy or corrupt to provide Way of life might look like failure, but is a rejection of ordinary concepts of success etc Duplicity is rife – seeking out of truth Police symbolically represent law & order’s limitations Femme fatale – challenges to detectives ; physical & psychological security; fear of feminine aggression
READERSHIP More widely read than any other genre in Western world Reader is able to identify with the criminal (fantasy gratification of the Id) – safe as story is sufficiently removed from reality AND super ego knows detection & punishment will follow (pre 1945) ‘harmless and purging surrogate for the Oedipus myth in every writer’s & reader’s life’ Detective story ritual – restoration of order Murderer as society’s scapegoat
READERSHIP All feel guilt – exorcizing through symbolic sacrifice. Weakening of detective story = weakening of sense of sin Joy of puzzle – intellectual gratification Sensationalism Reading Practices – meaning often contextual – levels of uncertainty Karma? Passion for and of meaning (Barthes in Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative)
Reading Retrospection – we re read mentally to reconfigure meaning Reader usually positioned to be involved as problem solver/ to participate Willing suspension of disbelief Intellect dealing with complexities of life in the metropolis?
GENRE Tradition view = fixed forms. Contemporary view = dynamic Factors – authorial and technological experimentation, economic and social changes, readership demands Not neutral categories – relational to cultural and historical context
The Femme Fatale The femme fatale, defined simply, is an irresistibly attractive woman, especially one who leads men into danger. In hard-boiled fiction, she is usually the protagonist's romantic interest.
The Femme Fatale The protagonist's involvement with her may range from mild flirtation to passionate sex, but in the denouement he must reject or leave her, for the revealed plot shows her to be one of the causes of the crime.
The Femme Fatale An important attribute of the hero became his ability to distinguish between types of women and to respond accordingly, to discern "good women" from bad.
The Femme Fatale The femme fatale has been roundly condemned as misogynist by feminist literary criticism, though in most (and especially contemporary) hard-boiled narrative the reader is more apt to find modern female characters with some archetypal traits, and female characters unrelated to the archetype at all, rather than the pure archetype.
The Femme Fatale attractive, belongs to a cult, uses drugs, and has small, pointed ears and teeth. delirium tremens and exorcise her lust. Raymond Chandler gave the same physical features to murderous, sex-obsessed Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep. Had he succumbed to her, Marlowe would have been shot at the novel's end.
‘She approached me with enough sex appeal to stampede a business men’s lunch and titled her head to finger a stray, but not a very stray, tendril of softly glowing hair.’ ‘Vivian’s lips parted slowly until her teeth caught the light and glittered like knives.’
‘Vivian is spoiled, exacting, smart and quite ruthless. Carmen is a child who likes to pull wings off flies. Neither of them has anymore moral sense than a cat.’ ‘She bit her lip and turned her head a little and looked at me along her eyes. The she lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theatre curtain. I was to get to know that trick.’
‘Her teeth chattered and the hissing noise was sharp and animal.’ ‘She stood there for a moment and hissed at me, her face liked scrapped bone, her eyes still empty and yet full of some jungle emotion.’ ‘The imprint of her head was still in the pillow, of her small corrupt body still on the sheets. I put my empty glass down and tore the bed to pieces savagely.’
Imagery The contrast between the smooth and the rough is an extension of the distinction between the hard and the soft, with the added meaning of "modern" vs. "old-fashioned."
During the classic hard-boiled period, the smooth was urged upon consumers in clothing (ready-made clothes instead of home-spun) in home appliances (gas and electric ovens, instead of coal stoves) and transportation (the automobile, instead of the horse).
Protagonists of hard-boiled fiction tend to be clean-shaven, dress in smooth fabrics, drive cars, live in apartments (often efficiencies), and to use modern products.
Philip Marlowe's world abounds in comparisons, giving the detective the complexion of a polymath. Chandler's metaphors are mostly similes. They most often describe a character memorably on first appearance, saving the author effort when the character reappears. Chandler often uses similes in early descriptions of characters and then invokes them again later.
"Artificial" seems to be the concept Chandler had in mind; he returns to it later in the novel: Carmen acts "as if [she had] artificial lips and had to be manipulated by springs". A description such as the later reminds us of Victorian machinery – exposed and clumsy. Even here the author indirectly values the modern: that which is seamless, functional, and rhythmic.
Thus Carmen Sternwood in the first four pages of The Big Sleep walks "as if she were floating," has teeth "as shiny as porcelain," lowers her eyelashes like "a theatre curtain," sucks her thumb "like a baby with a comforter," and "went up the stairs like a deer". The reader understands that she is infantile, transparently cunning, and energetic.
Chandler mined a few subjects for his metaphors, all of which can be seen contributing to his description of General Sternwood in The Big Sleep. Chandler's primary referents were time, mass, motion and inertia. The General "nodded, as if his neck were afraid of the weight of his head" .
But Chandler also used California life and the daily culture of Los Angeles: The General's "few locks of white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock". Chandler was intensely conscious of death and disease: The General's orchids are "plants with nasty meaty fingers and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men".
Key Quotes "You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that, oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was.“ ‘If I sound a little sinister as a parent, Mr Marlow, it is because my hold on life is too slight to include any Victorian hypocrisy.’ ‘The general half closed his eyes. ‘They are nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men. And their perfume has the rotten sweetness of a prostitute.’
‘Sure, but there’s very little to tell. I’m thirty-three years old, went to college once and can still speak English if there’s any demand for it. There isn’t much in my trade. I worked for Mr Wilde, the District Attorney, as an investigator. His chief investigator, a man named Bernie Ohls, called me and told me you wanted to see me. I’m unmarried because I don’t like policeman’s wives.’ ‘I don’t mind your showing me your legs. They’re very swell legs and it’s a pleasure to make their acquaintance. I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners. They’re pretty bad. I grieve over them during the long winter evenings.’
’I re-wrapped the book and locked it behind the seat. A racket like that, out in the open on the boulevard, seemed to mean plenty of protection. I sat there and poisoned myself with cigarette smoke and listened to the rain and thought about it.’ ‘Ten blocks of that, winding down curved rainswept streets, under the steady drip of trees, past lighted windows in big houses in ghostly enormous grounds, vague clusters of eaves and gables and lighted windows high on the hillside, remote and inaccessible, like witch house in a forest.’
‘He didn’t know the right people. That’s all a police record means in this rotten crime-ridden country’ ‘He wrestled it around on the highway and drove back towards town along a three-land highway washed clean by the rain, past low rolling hills of yellow-white sand terraced with pink moss.’ ‘The black candles guttered in the draught from the open door. Drops of black wax crawled down their sides. The air of the room was poisonous and unreal.’ ‘The tumbling rain was solid white spray in the headlights.’ ‘I was as empty of life as a scarecrow’s pockets.’
‘I’m selling what I have to sell to make a living. What little guts and intelligence the Lord gave me and a willingness to get pushed around in order to protect a client.’ ‘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. I guess he doesn’t realise what the world is to-day.’ ‘I read all three of the morning papers over my eggs and bacon the next morning. Their accounts of the affair came as close to the truth as newspaper stories usually come – as close as Mars to Saturn.’
There was a gusty wind blowing in at the windows and the soot from the oil burners of the hotel next door was down-draughted into the room and rolling across the top of the desk like a tumbleweed drifting across a vacant lot.’ ‘I told Eddie Mars and told him I was coming down to Las Olindas that evening to talk to him. That was how smart I was.’ ‘In a shadowy angle against the scribbled wall a pouched ring of pale rubber had fallen and had not been disturbed. A very nice building.’
Essay Writing Introduction: address essay question, outline thesis – three BIG ideas, briefly describe novel, briefly describe context – focus on values, attitudes and beliefs as well as major ‘events’.
Essay Writing Three SOLID paragraphs – three pieces of evidence per thesis point. Each point to be supported by a discussion of context. Point, context, techniques, example, explain purpose and effect, link directly to the essay question.
SAMPLE ESSAY QUESTIONS ‘Detective fiction focuses on the solving of a particular mystery, but it also raises questions about the society it depicts.’ Evaluate the way Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep reflects and comments on its society.
SAMPLE ESSAY QUESTIONS ‘The twentieth century suffered a loss of faith in a moral centre and moral direction.’ In what ways does Chadler’s novel The Big Sleep show this statement to be true? ‘The Modern era is characterised by the recognition that the traditional values of the Victorian Era led to a horrific war, industrial squalor, the breakdown of traditional rural society, exploitation of other cultures and races, and a society built on power and greed.’ Discuss this statement in relation to Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep.
SAMPLE ESSAY QUESTIONS The modern world saw a shift from the closed, finite, measurable, cause-and-effect universe of nineteenth century science to an open, relativistic, changing, strange universe in the twentieth century led to a shift in power and responsibility – from authority to the individual. How does Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep reflect this shift in power and responsibility?
SAMPLE ESSAY QUESTIONS ‘Discoveries in the realms of psychology, economics and politics led to the view that the forces governing behaviour, and particularly the most powerful and formative ones, are hidden.’ Discuss this statement in relation to your study of Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep.
SAMPLE ESSAY QUESTIONS ‘Crime fiction texts always challenge the values in their contemporary society.’ How does Chandler use The Big Sleep to challenge the values of his own society? Critic Andrew Tudor notes that 'a genre... defines a moral and social world' Explain the moral and social codes embedded in the novel The Big Sleep.