Classroom Strategies

Even if they don’t know any hard-boiled detective fiction or film noir, students probably know some neo-noir, or some books or films that borrow from the genre–The Big Lebowski leaps to mind. Once they’ve discussed character, setting, tone, and other conventions of the hard-boiled detective novel, an assignment could ask them to trace the influence or evolution of the genre within a contemporary text. [Liz Lundberg]

Discussion Questions

  • Like all of Raymond Chandler’s well-known detective fiction, The Big Sleep has undergone something of a transformation in cultural status. Originally pulpy pop culture, The Big Sleep has been elevated, if not to highbrow status, at least to something worthy of critical, scholarly attention. This history of the book’s reception raises one of the interesting things to consider with students: what lowbrow cultural texts from today do we think might undergo a similar rehabilitation?
  • In some ways Marlowe always seems to be simply in the right place at the right time. How much of his success (in any of his novels) is actually due to his investigative skills?
  • The portrayal of women in this novel is particularly perplexing: Carmen goes borderline catatonic or slips into baby talk and sucks her thumb when confronted with danger, but by the end of the book she is revealed to be much more devious (and therefore smarter) than she originally appears. How much of her schtick is the real her, how much is it a cover, and how much does it play into what the other characters expect of her? [Questions submitted by Liz Lundberg]