Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Sternwood Mansion

Sternwood Mansion. Los Angeles home of General Sternwood, which Chandler uses to represent money—the motivating factor in all the skullduggery that follows. General Sternwood is being blackmailed because he is known to be a multimillionaire. His two daughters are being exploited for the same reason. Private investigator Philip Marlowe becomes involved in the family’s troubles because the general needs to protect his money and his daughters. Chandler dramatizes the presence of enormous wealth by describing the size and luxury of the estate, the number of servants required to maintain it, the general’s private greenhouse, Vivian Regan’s all-white bedroom, and the family’s expensive automobiles. Chandler also uses the opening scene at the Sternwood Mansion to introduce many of the principal characters of his novel. Chandler skillfully introduces the characters of Carmen Sternwood, the nymphomaniac who is the source of most of the trouble; Norris, the butler; the general, who represents the dying moral values of a past era; the chauffeur, who will eventually murder Arthur Gwynn Geiger; Vivian Sternwood; and Vivian’s faithful maid. The dialogue also gives a preliminary introduction to characters who will appear later: Bernie Ohls, the assistant district attorney; Geiger, the blackmailer and pornography peddler; Eddie Mars, the gambler; Mars’s beautiful estranged wife; and Rusty Regan, who never actually appears but is essential to the story. The Sternwood Mansion is described in detail because it serves as an important setting for the events of the novel.


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Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

While Chandler was penning his novel in the late 1930s, the United States was attempting to recover from the depression...

(The entire section is 499 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Dialogue, the conversation between two or more characters, is a primary tool writers use for characterization and to...

(The entire section is 382 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Chandler's most obvious and effective technique in The Big Sleep, as well as his most important contribution to the form of the...

(The entire section is 336 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1930s: The economy of the United States continues to slump after a massive downturn in the stock market, which began in 1929 and led...

(The entire section is 142 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Divide the class into four groups and assign each group eight chapters from the novel. Each group should compile a list of terms from their...

(The entire section is 189 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The question of whether Chandler's fiction properly belongs to the detective story genre is still debated, and at present no answer is in...

(The entire section is 271 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In writing his first novel, Chandler used elements of his earlier short fiction. For The Big Sleep he cannibalized parts of two...

(The entire section is 168 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

By creating the legendary Marlowe, Chandler can be credited with the existence of several classic film treatments of the 1930s private eye,...

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Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Warner Brothers released the film adaptation of Chandler's novel in 1946. The movie, directed by Howard Hawks, stars Humphrey Bogart and...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Another popular Chandler novel chronicling the adventures of Phillip Marlowe is The Long Goodbye, published in 1953. This novel was...

(The entire section is 116 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Chandler, Raymond, The Big Sleep, Vintage, 1992, pp. 114, 204.

----, "The Simple Art of Murder," in...

(The entire section is 189 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bruccoli, Matthew J., and Richard Layman. Hardboiled Mystery Writers: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ross MacDonald. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2002. A handy supplemental reference that includes interviews, letters, and previously published studies. Illustrated.

Durham, Philip. Down These Mean Streets a Man Must Go: Raymond Chandler’s Knight. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963. An outstanding study of Chandler’s work including The Big Sleep.

Gross, Miriam, ed. The World of Raymond Chandler. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1977. A superb collection of critical...

(The entire section is 190 words.)