Thursday, September 27, 2007
The Sternwoods' Oil Fields
Throughout the novel, the integrity of Phillip Marlowe is tested by the corruption, or perhaps reality, of his environment. Sacrificing himself to serve a higher code of honor, Marlowe acts as the modern-day counterpart to the knight on the Sternwoods' stained glass window. While he follows the old fashioned ideals of the past, he is willing to immerse himself within the subterranean world of Los Angeles to do so. Yet by the end of "The Big Sleep", motives to propagate such outdated and seemingly naive notions of justice are put into question. In a world where crime is the pervasive feature of a society in decline, as accentuated by the blurring of social borders within a sprawling Los Angeles, how can one pursue a life of meaning? In the final passage, Marlowe comes to the strikingly nihilistic conclusion that such pursuits are meaningless as we are all going to be dead soon enough anyway.
"What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was. But the old man didn't have to be. He could lie quiet in his canopied bed, with his bloodless hands folded on the sheet, waiting. His heart was a brief uncertain murmur. His thoughts were as gray as ashes. And in a little while he too, like Rusty Regan, would be sleeping the big sleep." (230-231)
Pictures of the Baldwin Hills Oil Field were taken from "Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles" by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward.
Posted by L.A. Stories at 1:12 AM