The Never Ending Journey Of The Sisyphean Hero In "The Big Sleep"

1573 words - 7 pages

The subject of heroism has been the focus of art since the beginning of civilization. It should be no surprise that the hero would even be at the heart of a dark genre, such as Noir. However, since the time period of Noir, roughly the 1930s-1950s, is simultaneous with such monumental changes as the transition from a Romantic view of America to a more realistic and even existential view, the hero of this genre embodies a similar ideal in his character. Existentialism pivots around the idea that an individual wanders - often disoriented - in an absurd and meaningless world. In his novel, The Big Sleep, author Raymond Chandler introduces protagonist Philip Marlowe as this new existential hero. Marlowe is a detective who is loyal to his client and his client only. He possesses the qualities of an antihero who is not bound by the law, yet fights against the criminal underworld and works for justice in his own way. In the end he does not receive anything in return, except for the satisfaction of completing his job. Similarly, Albert Camus describes the punishment of his hero, Sisyphus, who is condemned to roll a rock up a mountain for the rest of eternity. Regardless, he performs his task with neither hesitation nor contempt. Raymond Chandler depicts Philip Marlowe as a private eye who concurrently parallels the Sisyphean hero seen in his moment of consciousness when he takes charge of his fate through cogitation, to reveal that one possesses freedom of thought at every step.
Both Sisyphus and Marlowe share the unique characteristic of capitalizing on the situation at hand, which yields enormous leverage over the outcome resulting from the type of contemplation they choose. They are two blind beings who are able to see nonetheless. They walk toward a destination that does not exist with a lucidity that only an absurd hero can possess. Sisyphus, who is bound to his penalty, gives the impression of being indifferent to his torture. He regards his infliction as a mere happening that doesn’t have the capacity of harming him. Camus refers to the time when Sisyphus looks down at the rock as “that hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness” (2). Sisyphus is looking at his present duty: to roll the rock up the mountain once more. He knows his job and how to perform it; he also knows there is no end to his punishment; therefore, he is “conscious” of his condition. Camus emphasizes the fact that Sisyphus’ suffering is endless to show the tragedy behind sentience. Nevertheless, his hero reverses his affliction to come out victorious against the Gods and the rock. Philip Marlowe responds in a similar way. When the District Attorney asks him how much he gets paid for his job, Marlowe admits it is not a great amount of money. The DA scorns him for putting himself in trouble for such a small amount and Marlowe responds by saying: “I don’t like it. […] But what the hell am I to do? I’m on a case. I’m selling...

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