Sound Judgment In Unsound Circumstances In Hammett's The Maltese Falcon

2160 words - 9 pages

Dashiell Hammett renovates the mystery genre by popularizing the never before seen hard-boiled crime fiction. By serializing his works through literary magazines of the 1920s like The Black Mask, Hammett shares his unsentimental tales of mystery, violence, and promiscuity. What was first a surveillance assignment carried out the protagonist Sam Spade and partner Miles Archer turns into a murder investigation, as Archer is found dead that evening. Spade is a suspect, as Archer’s wife Iva and Spade are having an affair. The reader learns that the woman who requested the surveillance in the first place, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, lied to the partners. The relationship Brigid builds with Spade ...view middle of the document...

In his novel The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett exhibits the conviction of a moral code of honor to encourage the individual to make decisions founded by one's morals.
Firstly, Spade examines each case by determining how he is to gain regardless of whom he may cross or what friends he may betray. When Hammett first introduces Spade, he makes it clear to the reader that Spade is single minded and self-centered on his own success. “Hammett establishes [Spade’s] questionable moral position in the novel’s first paragraph, describing him as looking ‘rather pleasantly like a blond Satan’” (“The Maltese Falcon” 196). Spade avoids holding any strong convictions towards people; whether it is the women in his life, his partner, or the clients he is receiving payment from. Although Spade agrees to solve a case or enter a relationship with a woman, he never lets himself get involved so much that he no longer gains. Shortly after Archer’s death, Iva visits Spade in his office. This is where Hammett reveals to the reader that Spade and Iva are having an affair. During a conversation with Iva, Spade realizes that further contact with business partner’s widow would fuel a growing suspicion that he killed Archer. “When [Iva] had stopped crying [Spade] put his mouth to her ear and murmured: ‘You shouldn’t have come here today, precious. It wasn’t wise. You can’t stay. You ought to be home’” (Hammett 26). Spade recognizes that pleasure he gained from his relationship with Iva was only temporary, and that he must move on since there is more to lose than to gain in what is left of their relationship.
Second, Spade feigns corruptibility as a detective for his own best interest while adhering to his moral code. Spade hides his moral actions by calling them good business moves. David Kelly writes how Spade proves to be very mysterious early in the novel, leaving the reader to judge whether Spade is moral or not. “…Spade’s personality…provokes readers to wonder about [his morals]. In the end, the mystery of the man turns out to be more compelling than any other questions about who did what, with what, and how” (198). Halfway through the novel, Spade sleeps with Brigid. He takes advantage of this opportunity to steal a key and search her apartment for clues about the falcon’s location. “In the girl’s apartment he switched on all the lights. He searched the place from wall to wall…Every drawer, cupboard, cubbyhole, box, bag, trunk---locked or unlocked--- was opened…” (Hammett 30). Although Spade never fully trusted Brigid, the reader is left to decide whether this search was moral. Regardless, Spade finds important information about Brigid’s whereabouts that eventually lead to the discovery of the falcon.
Subsequently, Hammett differentiates character’s motivations in seeking the valuable falcon. In this novel, Hammett mixes very unlikely and unalike characters to seek one very valuable object for personal gain. Each character however finds a way to negatively...

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