Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

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MalteseFalcon by Dashiell Hammett

Analyzing“TheMaltese Falcon”By Dashiell Hammett

TheMaltese Falcon,one of Dashiell Hammett’s most famous works, was published in 1930.The novel which is probably Hammett’s most famous work revolvesaround the anti-hero detective, Sam Spade. Spade and Miles Archer,his partner, takes on a case to locate Miss Wonderly’s youngersister, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, who has supposedly run off with FloydThursby. Not long, Both Thursby and Archer are found murdered andSpade is a suspect. After a little digging, Spade finds out thatWonderly is in deed Brigid who has no sister, and she is the one whokilled Archer. On the other hand, Spade is curious of Brigid’spursuit, and at the same time, the suspicious Joel Cairo offers Spade$5,000 to find a statue of black falcon. It seems Brigid also knowsabout the much-wanted falcon, which happens to be her pursuit. Inorder to distract Spade from asking too many questions, Brigid sleepswith the detective.

CasperGutman and Wilmer Cook seek out Spade, also looking for the falcon.Gutman reveals that the much wanted falcon comes from the island ofMalta, it is covered with priceless jewels and is painted black toconceal it value. It is after sitting at the bottom of theMediterranean Sea for a hundred years, that the Maltese Falcon wasdiscovered seventeen years ago and Gutman has been looking for itever since. Gutman thought that his employees Cairo, Thursby andBrigid found the statue and decided to keep it for themselves. Gutmanbeats up Spade and Cook thinking they have the falcon, but realizesthat they do not have it. The next day, a stranger named Jacobiarrives in Spade’s office dying of gunshot wounds with the falconstature wrapped in a parcel and hands it over to Spade.

Spadecontacts Gutman, who comes with his employees, Cook, Cairo, andBrigid in Spade’s apartment, and offers him $10,000 cash for thestature. On the other hand, they have to look for fall guy to blamefor the murder of Thursby, Jacobi and Archer. It turns out that Cookdid kill Thursby and Jacobi. Surprisingly, while still in Spade’sapartment they discover that the falcon stature is fake and Gutmanand Cairo sets out to look for the original bird. Spade confrontsBrigid about the murder of Archer, which she confesses and admits ofkilling him. Brigid also confesses her love for Spade, but all thesame, Spade turns her over to the police. After they left, Cook killsGutman, Cairo is arrested, and Spade goes back to his love affairwith Archer’s widow.

Theprotagonist of the story, Spade, is a fascinating man with a sardonicsense of humor, as well as, an individual sense of humor. As ananti-hero of the story, he as flawed, even more flawed than mostcharacters, has major weaknesses yet is sympathetically portrayed,and he magnifies the frailties of humanity. More so, he adheres tohis own personal code of honor, than the society’s, as evident whenSpade purposes to bring Archer’s killer into justice, despite thefact that he did not like his partner. Moral code, therefore, isimmutable for Spade, who seems to play by his rules. Spade is alsoviewed as an anti-hero as he is hard-nosed and tough as a detective.Although he declares that he will obtain justice for his partner,Spade does not seem upset by his death. Furthermore, he knows thatBrigid killed Archer, but remains silent for some time, as well as,tolerates her lies for a while. Although in the beginning he portraysthat he is not a man of scruples, he redeems his character in the endby turning Brigid to the police.

Theanti-hero portrays a lack of the sense of right and wrong morals byhaving an affair with his partner’s scheming wife. Later, Spadedecides to dump her after her husband’s mysterious murder. In fact,he seems to be more preoccupied with little more than his own dailyordeals. His client Miss. Wonderly hints at offering him a bribe, buthe complains that she has tried to bribe him with money alone.According to Hammett (2010), She asks him “What else do I have tobribe you with?” Spade replies that by taking her in his arms andkissing her. Still later, Spade demands and receives a $1,000 billfrom the criminal gang trying to acquire the stature. When he handover the bill to the police in the end, he remarks, “Don’t be sosure am as crooked as am supposed to be. That sort of reputationmight be good for business, bringing high priced jobs and makingeasier to deal with the enemy.”

Theseverely flawed protagonist must continually struggle for survival inthe dangerous and violent world. His character is revealed throughhis exposure to danger, as well as, his sexual relationships withBrigid and Iva Archer, despite the knowledge that the relationshipsare dangerous. The relationship with Brigid and the fact that he isinvolved with a married woman portrays his sexual desire for women.First, spade has an ongoing affair with Iva Archer. In an actinitially known to Spade, Brigid kills Miles, and Hammett presentsSpade as desiring to put some emotional distance between himself andIva because he is drawn to Brigit. As the anti-hero of the novel,danger and desire appear to influence him equally. Through thecharacter Iva Archer, we learn Spade’s adulterous behavior. Havinga relationship with Iva, at the first place is a risky businessbecause his partner carries a gun and can easily use it on him incase he learns of the affair. More so, Iva is described as anunstable person attempting to hold on to Spade before and afterMile’s death. This simply means that Spade risked having arelationship with an unstable married woman, who could reveal herfeeling for Spade to her husband exposing Spade into more danger.

Onthe other hand, Brigid is not an apparent danger, but she doesattract Spade and intends through her sexual appeal to use him as shedoes others. Sexual desire leads spade to sleep with her before herealizes that she is willing to murder to obtain the Maltese Falcon.However, Spade maintains a strong character through his ability todraw back from Brigid once he satisfies his desire. More so, Brigidcannot lead Spade up the alley as she literally does Archer. Thisportrays that Spade has a fundamental control over his sexualinstincts that allow him not to draw back from his course, and alsoas a matter of fact he renounces her, somewhat ironically, forkilling his partner whom he did not particularly like and whom hebetrayed with his Iva.

Theflawed hero survives in the face of danger when dealing withexperienced gunmen who are also international gangsters. It may beperceived that living in a world that is lawless, the modern heromay require physical rather than intellectual ability. On thecontrary, Spade with his private eye faces the experienced gangsterhowever imperfect of limited he may be confronts an even sleazierbunch of criminals with his intellect, but acts according to hisapprehension of truth. Spade’s pursuit for justice shows that theflawed hero is clever and has a high intellectual ability than themurderers. More so, in turning Brigid over to the police, Spade doesnot only outwit clever opponents, demonstrating a superior mentalfaculty, but he also does the right thing to obtain justice for hisdead partner. In fact he openly tells Brigid “I won’t play thesap for you” (Hammett, 2010) Spade must sacrifice Brigid to thepolice, thus, he must give up money and love in order to keep hisethical nature consistent. Turning Brigid in for justice demonstratedthat the flawed hero is ethical and has the right morals in which,his character determines his action.

Inconclusion, Hammett novel has significance not simply on account ofits popularity, but also because it has evolved as modern society hasevolved. The modernist hero is surrounded by adversaries in a worldwhere survival depends on adopting modes of duplicity and coercion.Unarmed, he faces adversaries who have only one reason to spare hislife, which is temporary, but Spade acts in a fashion best calculatedto insure his survival. However, Sam overcomes his adversaries, suchas Brigid, with his ability to outwit them, as well as, through hiscalculated behavior. This marks Spades control over his action andhis adversaries. The author manages to portray how crime and violencehas become predominant throughout the current society with the use ofa private eye. Thus, the central protagonist/hero fits the picture ofthe modernist pattern dramatized through crime, gangster gangs,immorality, corruption, harshness and violence.


Hammett, D. (2010). The Maltese Falcon. New York: KnopfDoubleday Publishing.