Raymond Chandler would like us to believe that The Big Sleep is just another example of hard-boiled detective fiction. He would like readers to see Philip Marlowe, Vivian Regan, Carmen Sternwood, Eddie Mars, and the rest of the characters as either "good guys" or "bad guys" with no deeper meaning or symbolism to them. I found the book simple and easy to understand; the problem was that it was too easy, too simple. Then came one part that totally stood out from the rest of the book &emdash; the chessboard. Marlowe toyed with it whenever he got the chance, and it probably helped him think of a next move in a particular case. I found it odd that Chandler made such a brief mention of chess, but I did not realize why until I finished the book and had time to think about what I had read. In a very interesting sense, the entire novel resembles the game of chess. Each character is a piece, and the name of the game is survival. Though the ultimate goal in chess is to take possession of the king, the underlying strategy is to eliminate as many pieces as one possibly can. This serves as insurance in the overall goal. Being that the characters/pieces determine the direction of the goal, let us look at them to begin. I have chosen to examine two characters in-depth and then put them on the board with the rest of the people in the novel.
Philip Marlowe does not correspond to the knight of the chessboard. Chandler assumes that the reader will fall into the easy trap of assigning Marlowe to the role of the knight. After all, he is the main man in the novel, the one who needs to solve the case. His self-description in the opening chapter lures the reader into believing he is a typical white knight hero. "I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be" (3). This is a fitting description of a knight only because knights must possess similar qualities in order to be heroes. The main idea...
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