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In The Maltese Falcon, is Sam Spade in any real danger of being hanged?

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 8, 2013 at 7:15 PM via web

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In The Maltese Falcon, is Sam Spade in any real danger of being hanged?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 10, 2013 at 7:11 PM (Answer #1)

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Sam Spade makes the decision to turn Brigid into the police for the murder of Miles Archer. He knows that Gutman and the others, who Spade has already turned in, will explain everything that happened to the police to try and mitigate their jail time, as well as try to pin all the murders on him; Spade will be accused of murdering at least two people, possibly more, and since he has already committed several crimes, Spade's word will be suspect. Because Brigid actually did kill Miles Archer, Spade decides to turn her in; he believes that she will be treated better because she is a woman.

"...Don't be silly. You're taking the fall. One of us has got to take it... they'd hang me sure. You're likely to get a better break..."
(Hammett, The Maltese Falcon, Google Books)

Spade's worry is that he will be convicted of murdering Miles Archer (he has motive, as he and Archer's wife were having an affair) and possibly others, and murder was still a hanging offense when the novel was published. Spade knows that he will not be treated with lenience; his past record, his contentions with the police, and the fact that he would have to confess to the crime to protect Brigid all mean that he is much more likely to be convicted and hanged. Brigid is likely to be treated better, as a woman, and so turning her in saves Spade's life while ensuring that she is punished for killing Archer.

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 11, 2013 at 12:02 AM (Answer #2)

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Sam Spade makes the decision to turn Brigid into the police for the murder of Miles Archer. He knows that Gutman and the others, who Spade has already turned in, will explain everything that happened to the police to try and mitigate their jail time, as well as try to pin all the murders on him; Spade will be accused of murdering at least two people, possibly more, and since he has already committed several crimes, Spade's word will be suspect. Because Brigid actually did kill Miles Archer, Spade decides to turn her in; he believes that she will be treated better because she is a woman.

"...Don't be silly. You're taking the fall. One of us has got to take it... they'd hang me sure. You're likely to get a better break..."
(Hammett, The Maltese Falcon, Google Books)

Spade's worry is that he will be convicted of murdering Miles Archer (he has motive, as he and Archer's wife were having an affair) and possibly others, and murder was still a hanging offense when the novel was published. Spade knows that he will not be treated with lenience; his past record, his contentions with the police, and the fact that he would have to confess to the crime to protect Brigid all mean that he is much more likely to be convicted and hanged. Brigid is likely to be treated better, as a woman, and so turning her in saves Spade's life while ensuring that she is punished for killing Archer.


Much of what you say sounds convincing. However, I don't see why Spade would have to confess to a crime he didn't commit--even if he allowed Brigid to escape. That doesn't sound like Spade at all. He may be somewhat infatuated with Brigid, but he is not so madly in love that he would die for her. Here is how he describes his feelings:

"Now on the other side we've got what? All we've got is the fact that maybe you love me and maybe I love you."

"You know," she whispered, "whether you do or not."

"I don't. It's easy enough to be nuts about you. . . . But I don't know what that amounts to. Does anybody ever? But suppose I do? What of it? Maybe next month I won't. I've been through it before--when it lasted that long."

Earlier in that scene he says, in pure hardboiled poetic prose:

"I don't care who loves who I'm not going to play the sap for you. I won't walk in Thursby's and Christ knows who else's footsteps. You killed Miles and you're going over for it."

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