What are the main examples of corruption and justice in The Big Sleep?

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cynthiadawn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep is set during the Great Depression in America when poverty and organized crime were rampant. We see this corruption through the eyes of Philip Marlow, a private investigator who strives to be an honorable man in the midst of this chaotic world.

The book begins with Marlowe being hired by General Sternwood to protect his family from a blackmailing pornographer named Arthur Geiger. The police are paid off to allow Geiger to operate his illegal pornography racket. He takes advantage of Sternwood's mentally disturbed daughter, Carmen, by gambling with her and taking pornographic photographs in order to demand money from the wealthy General. When Geiger dies, many racketeers come out and attempt to take over his business, stabbing each other in the back to do so.

This incident reveals several elements of corruption in this book. Though the police are supposed to be agents of law and order, anyone who has money, power or influence can ignore the law and do as they please. Vivian Sternwood explains the situation this way: "He didn't know the right people. That's all a police record means in this rotten crime-ridden country."

Because the police are unwilling to bring justice, people like Philip Marlowe must take justice into their own hands. Marlowe sees himself as a knight fighting for good in a crooked city.


Another major incident of corruption in the novel is the cover-up for the death of Vivian Sternwood's husband, Reagan. Reagan was killed by Carmen, but Vivian attempted to hide the murder with the help of Eddie Mars, who Marlowe describes as "a pornographer, a blackmailer, a hot car broker, a killer by remote control, and a suborner of crooked cops." Mars is happy to help, as it gives him something else to hold over the Sternwood family. His greed is too great, however, and he, in fact, orchestrates Geiger's blackmailing plot.

Even though Vivian may have had good intentions in trying to cover up her husband's murder, it escalated into a nightmare that caused the deaths of four people. In the end, no one is brought to justice for the death of Reagan. After learning of what Carmen did, Marlowe demands that Vivian has Carmen institutionalized. There are no consequences for Vivian for her part in covering up the murder. Though we are meant to feel sympathy for these characters, Malowe does nothing to bring true justice to the situation. 

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Four major examples of crime and corruption in The Big Sleep are the following:

1. Arthur Gwynn Geiger is running a pornographic book store right on Hollywood Boulevard in the center of Hollywood. This is illegal at the time and the establishment is well known to the police, but they are doing nothing about it because they are getting paid off. Geiger is also a blackmailer and a dope dealer as well as a dealer in pornographic books. The District Attorney seems unconcerned when Marlowe tells him about the bookstore.

2. Eddie Mars is running a wide-open gambling casino in a place called Las Olindas somewhere south of Los Angeles. This too is completely against the law in California, but local sheriffs and their officers were getting paid off all over California to look the other way.

3. Philip Marlowe meets his informant at the office of Puss Walgreen which is actually a bookie joint but advertises itself as an insurance agency. This place is also known to the police but pays for protection.

4. Marlowe has a deadly encounter with Lash Canino at Art Huck's Garage about forty miles east of L.A. This garage is described as a "hot car drop," a place where stolen cars are repainted and resold. This business is probably known to the local law enforcement authorities.