Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Big Sleep is Raymond Chandler’s first novel. Many critics have considered it a classic. Arguably it is the best of Chandler’s seven novels, and unquestionably it ranks above the writing of Dashiell Hammett as among the finest examples of its genre in the twentieth century. As such, it proved extremely influential. Other mystery writers, such as Ross Macdonald, Robert B. Parker, and Mickey Spillane, acknowledged Chandler’s influence. Mystery readers into the mid-1980’s listed Chandler as their third favorite, just behind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. In addition, writers such as Alistair Cooke and Bernard De Voto regarded Chandler as an important literary figure. Chandler may have been all the more respected and influential because of his ardent belief that fine mystery writing deserves full acceptance as respectable literature by the world of letters. Moreover, many critics believed that, when other writers elevated the value of style, Chandler doubtless merited a front rank.

In Philip Marlowe, The Big Sleep’s narrator, Chandler creates a new species of hard-boiled private detective whose character continues evolving in his subsequent novels. Previous private-eye fiction had been freighted with square-jawed heroes who resolved matters with guns and fists. Encased in a cynic’s armor, Marlowe, however, beneath all, is a knight, his name itself drawn by Chandler from Sir Thomas Malory’s fifteenth century...

(The entire section is 595 words.)