Chandler’s “The Big Sleep”: Noir and Homophobia and Slapping Hysterical Women, Oh My…

Ah, the other major detective noir. After reading “The Maltese Falcon,” I rather quickly set my sights on reading Chandler’s pulpy-not-pulp Magnum Opus. I had fun. It’s not my normal read, but it’s a wonderful bit of fun. And unlike much of the “fun” reading out there, it’s not distractingly bad on a sentence-by-sentence level examination of the prose itself (although it’s certainly a bit dated).

The elephant in the room here, as with Hammett, is the caveman-level portrayals of women. I have no doubt that the likes of Chandler and Hammett depict women in a far better light than their pulp magazine contemporaries, but it still stands out rather badly -specifically the passing justifications of casual violence against “hysterical” women. Male homosexuals don’t fare particularly well here, either, both in the general sense of their depiction and in the specific violence directed against them.

It’s a damn shame, because the rest of the work holds up surprisingly well. Whenever one reads literature of the past, one has to come to terms with the realities of the systemic oppression and abuse of that era, whether it be based in gender, race, or sexuality. Of course, there is a difference between authors who wrote within the greater cultural context of their time and authors who advocated for or glorified that oppression and abuse (one of the reasons I cannot stand Kipling). My problem with “The Big Sleep” is that I can’t seem to make up my mind on where exactly Chandler falls on this spectrum.

Recommendation: This one is gonna come down to your personal preference, but if you have even a passing interest in noir, you can’t really pass it up.

 

Big Sleep
by Raymond Chandler
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2 comments

  1. If you haven’t read it yet you might want to evaluate Dashiell Hammett’s female characters in The Thin Man. Some folks think his relationship with Lillian Hellman led to progress in his characterization of females. He was always good with villianesses already, iimho.

    Liked by 1 person

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