The Maltese Falcon

By Dashiell Hammett

Character Analysis

The protagonist in The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett is Samuel Spade. Sam Spade is a private detective that gets mixed up in a chaotic chase for a mysterious falcon.

Sam Spade is an attractive man with yellowish-grey eyes, probably in his thirties. As stated on page 3, "Samuel Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The v motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down-from high flat temples-in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond Satan." Spade is an intelligent and well spoken man who isn't easily intimidated. For example, when Cairo comes to search Spade's office and holds him at gunpoint, Spade doesn't seem fazed. On page 45, it says, "Spade did not look at the pistol. He raised his arms and, leaning back in the chair, intertwined the fingers of his two hands behind his head. His eyes, holding no particular expression, remained focused on Cairo's dark face." Spade is also smart enough to almost always get what he wants. For example, after sleeping with Brigid O'Shaughnessy, he used it to his advantage by searching her apartment for clues about the falcon. You can say that Spade is honorable as well. This is because, even though he wasn't very fond of his partner, Miles Archer, he still felt that he had to something about his murder. As stated on page 213, "'When a man'a partner is killed he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it.'" Spade says this to Brigid after he tells her he's turning her in for the murder of Miles Archer. Even though he may have cared for her, he still felt that he needed to turn in, whether it was for Miles' sake or to clear his own name.

There is a lot of conflict in the novel regarding Spade. A lot of the conflict is Character v. Character. One example of this would e Spade and Lieutenant Dundy. Dundy accused Spade of the murders of Thursby and archer on more than one occasion. On page 22 it says, "'How did I kill Thursby? I've forgotten.'" Another conflict he faces is with Miss O'Shaughnessy. Brigid never tells Spade the truth unless he tells her that he knows she's lying. For example, on page 209, "'Will you stop it?' He demanded in a low impatient voice. 'This isn't the spot for the schoolgirl-act.'" Lastly, Spade faces conflict with Gutman, Cairo, and Wilmer.

Development of the Plot

In The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammet, the and characterization play a crucial role in the advance of the plot.

One of the main themes in this book is greed. All of the major characters in the book are either after money or the infamous falcon, which is supposedly worth a ton of money. For example, “Well, sir, if I told you—by Gad, if I told you half!—you’d call me a liar." This helps to advance the plot because if it weren't for everyone's insane greed, no one would be after the falcon. Also, Spade wouldn't be so interested in helping them if it weren't for the large sums of money he was promised. For example, “Yes, Mr. Spade. I am ready to pay five thousand dollars for the figure’s return, but surely it is natural enough that I should try first to spare the owner that expense if possible.” Also stated, “I will give you twenty-five thousand dollars when you deliver the falcon to me, and another twenty-five thousand as soon as I get to New York; or I will give you one quarter—twenty-five per cent—of what I realize on the falcon. There you are, sir: an almost immediate fifty thousand dollars or a vastly greater sum within, say, a couple of months.” On several occasions, by multiple people, Spade is offered large sums of money for the return of the falcon.

Characterization plays a major role in the advance of the plot because, especially in this novel, Dashiell Hammett goes into great detail about not only the characters' appearance, but also their personality. In the book, Brigid O'Shaugnessy is characterized as a compulsive liar and isn't trustworthy.

Praise or Pan?

I am panning The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. This is because I personally am not a fan of detective novels, but I wanted to try something different. One of the things that I didn't like about the book was some of the characters. For example, I wasn't a fan of Brigid O'Shaughnessy. This is because I found it immature of her to never tell the truth, almost as if she was oblivious to the situation she was in. By lying all the time she not only put herself in danger, but also the people around her. For example, she lied to Spade and Archer when she initially came to them and this resulted in Archer's death. While reading the book I struggled to figure out if I admired or disliked Spade. I admired the fact that he was so passionate about his work and that he was clever. For example, he did everything he could to avenge the death of his partner, even though he wasn't very fond of him. However, Spade was a womanizer and I couldn't figure out who he was truly "loyal" to while reading the book. But, at the end, this was revealed. Another thing I dislike about the book was the unexpected plot twist at the end. I felt that all of the sacrifices and risks that were taken by the characters throughout the book were all a waste. Overall, this personally wasn't my favorite book, but my opinion could be biased. I am not a fan of detective novels but the book is still highly praised by an abundance of readers. Even though I didn't necessarily enjoy it, I would still recommend you to read it because it is still a classic, well written book.