It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. 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. I was calling on four million dollars.
The main hallway of the Sternwood Place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him.
Here Chandler evokes the voice of his first person narrator through the cadences of his remembrance which is drenched in irony. As this is the opening to the novel we are not sure whether the irony is just the weary hard boiled cynicism of an overworked, underprivileged private eye, or whether the irony indicates that the speaker relishes the re-visitation (the past tense seems very immediate and just gone) because of the humorous mirroring of his own predicament in the stained glass window.
We could read the stained glass tableau as a wittily observed foreshadowing of the assigned role of the detective in the narrative. Of course the narrator may notice that which serves his own purpose and projected desires….
Money is revealed as the driving concern of both house and inhabitants here. The detective’s impressive ‘costume’ emphasizes his awareness of Sternwood Place’s economic status if not heart. Chandler’s Marlowe loves the careful itemization of his wardrobe, suggesting he enjoys his costume and that there may be a certain theatricality to the whole episode. And if this is theatre then Philip Marlowe must be an actor as of course the novel reveals he is.
How to analyse a text quickly!
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