Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sam Spade, a tall, blond, pleasantly satanic-looking, hard-boiled private detective suspected of having killed Thursby and of having also killed Miles Archer in order to marry Iva. He at last learns how he has been used in the plot to get the Maltese falcon; he discovers the murderers of Miles and Thursby, and he turns Brigid over to the police.
Brigid O’Shaughnessy, his tall, attractive, auburn-haired, deceitful client, who first masquerades as a Miss Wonderly, then shoots Miles, double-crosses her associates, and finally attempts in vain to seduce Sam into letting her go free of a murder charge.
Casper Gutman, her fat, tough employer, who is attempting to get hold of the Maltese falcon. He is shot by Wilmer Cook.
Wilmer Cook, Gutman’s young bodyguard, murderer of Thursby, Jacobi, and Gutman.
Joel Cairo, Gutman’s dark-skinned, flashily dressed one-time agent.
Miles Archer, Spade’s middle-aged partner, solidly built, wide-shouldered, red-faced. He is shot and killed by Brigid.
Floyd Thursby, Brigid’s murdered accomplice.
Iva Archer, Miles’s wife, a voluptuous, still pretty blonde in her thirties; in love with Sam....
(The entire section is 244 words.)
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While clearly a descendant of the Continental Op, Sam Spade is a more mature detective than his predecessor. In contrast to the anonymous, pudgy Op, Spade is given both an identity and a detailed description, which does not at all conform to the physical appearance of Humphrey Bogart, who has become the incarnation of Sam Spade for those who have seen the famous 1941 film, Hammett claims that, contrary to the other characters in the novel. Spade had no model in reality and that he was "a dream man in the sense that he is what private detectives I worked with would like to have been and what quite a few of them in their cockier moments thought they approached." He has a more clearly expressed professional and existential code than the Op and represents the prototype of the private detective: rough but sensitive, tender and violent at the same time, cunning but yearning for honesty. Hammett's initial description of Spade, as looking "rather pleasantly like a blond Satan," captures all these qualities.
Most of the other characters were taken from real life and many have become stereotypes in modern American detective fiction. Effie Perrine, the blonde, naive secretary, is reflected in Perry Mason's Delia Street and, more lusciously, in Mickey Spillane's Velda. Hammett's portrayal of Joel Cairo, the effete, sadistic homosexual gunman, was daring when the novel was first published, but now such characters appear frequently in detective and spy fiction. Brigid,...
(The entire section is 255 words.)
Before the novel began, while Miles Archer was still alive, Sam Spade was having an affair with his wife, Iva. After Miles’s death, Spade goes to lengths to avoid her. Iva asks Spade if he killed Miles so that he could marry her, an idea that Spade finds humorous. When she sees him with Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Iva becomes jealous and sends the police to his apartment. Spade convinces her that she could be in trouble for giving the police false information, and he sends her to talk to his lawyer for advice, giving him the chance to find out, through the lawyer, what Iva was doing around the time of Miles’s death.
A partner in the Spade and Archer detective agency, Miles, leering wolfishly at Brigid O’Shaughnessy, offers to handle her case personally and is lured to his death because of his lechery. He dies forgetting his better instincts and behaving inappropriately as a detective, letting a pretty girl, Brigid, lure him up a dark alley, where she shoots him. Spade has no fondness for his dead partner, remembering that he “was a louse. I found that out the first week we were in business together and I meant to kick him out as soon as the year was up.”
Phil is the brother of Miles. Although he does not appear in the novel, Phil Archer is instrumental in the plot: When he finds out that Spade was having an affair with Iva, Phil suspects that Spade might have had...
(The entire section is 1901 words.)