The Big Sleep Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Big Sleep Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Dark eyes

A common motif in the novel is the fact that many characters have dark eyes. Vivian for example, is described by Marlowe as having almost black eyes that make him uncomfortable and even the paintings on the wall inside the General’s house also have dark eyes. Dark eyes are usually associated here with various characters that have something to hide and they are used by the narrator to accentuate even further the idea of mystery.

Lavish houses

Another motif in the novel is the fact that most houses are described as being extremely lavish and luxurious. The narrator describes every detail with great precision, focusing on the furniture and paintings that are to be found inside the house. The attention given to the architectural details and background is a common motif in the novel and the description of the surroundings are often linked with the characters who own the house or the described items. In a way, the description of the rooms is an external representation of said characters.

Fast-paced conversations

Another motif in the novel is the fast-paced between the characters. These types of conversations appears for the first type between Marlowe and the General and then between Marlowe and Mars. The conversations are used to create a sense of suspense and they are always followed by a tense event. For example, after Marlowe and Mars’s conversation, Mars calls his men inside the house and threatens to kill Marlowe.


When Mars gets ready to kill Marlowe, he first puts his men to search him. When they find no gun on him and a detective’s license, they decide to let him go. For them, the lack of gun points towards the fact that Marlowe is harmless and the absence of his gun is seen as being a symbol for it. Also the presence of Marlowe’s detective’s license works here as a protection, Mars knowing that he could get into more trouble if he were to kill or harm someone who has connections with the police.

Masters of their own destiny

Another common motif is the change the women go through, metamorphosing from helpless damsels to strong women who know what they want and who are willing to go to great lengths to achieve their goals. Carmen for example, doesn’t hesitate to threaten Mars with a gun to take her compromising pictures back and Vivian resorts at manipulating Marlowe and convincing him to search for her missing husband. While both women use their sexuality to achieve their goals, their determination remains obvious.

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