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The Big Sleep Handout


EN304 Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (1939)

Highly Recommended

Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity (Verso, 1983)

Mike Davis, The City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles (Verso, 1990)

Mike Davis’s Ecology of Fear (1998), although it is mostly about contemporary LA,
has some very useful material on the literary background, especially Ch. 6:
‘The Literary Destruction of Los Angeles’.

See also ‘Living Mythically: The 1930’s’ in Eric Mottram, Blood on the Nash Ambassador: Investigations in American Culture  (1989)


Some Relevant Chapters in the Secondary Reading

“The Thirties,” in Bradbury & Temperley, Introduction to American Studies.

“The American city: ‘The old knot of contrariety’,” in Campbell & Kean, American Cultural Studies.

“Hollywood: The Economics of Utopia,” in Mitchell & Maidment, The United States in the Twentieth Century: Culture.


Howard Hawks dir. The Big Sleep (Warner Bros., 1946)

Roman Polanski dir. Chinatown (Pictures/Penthouse/Paramount, 1974)

Ridley Scott dir. Blade Runner (the Ladd Company/Sir Run Run Shaw, 1982)

Further Reading

Raymond Chandler, Farewell My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1942), The Lady in the Lake (1943), The Little Sister (1949)

James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: Three Tenant Families (1941)

About the lives of three poor Southern tenant-farming families, it is an experimental documentary.

Michael Connelly, The Concrete Blond (1994)

One of his series of Harry Bosch novels, which use detective fiction to depict the corruption and confusion of post-modern Los Angeles, just as Chandler did for the Los Angeles of the 30s. Connelly acknowledges the influence of Chandler on his writing, and encodes allusions to his novels in his own work.

Horace McCoy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They??(1935)

Uses the subject of the dance marathon as an image of the United States in the 30s.

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1939)

Won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939. The most famous account of the migration from the dust bowl to
California. Now much criticized for having “all the surface characteristics of serious literature.”
(Robert Warshow, The Immediate Experience, 1962)

Nathaniel West, the Day of the Locust (1939)

Essential companion piece to Chandler, and a major (anti)-Hollywood novel.
West’s other short novels are also relevant, especially Miss Lonelyhearts (1933)