What are examples of greed and selfishness in The Maltese Falcon?

Expert Answers
William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many examples of greed and selfishness in The Maltese Falcon. Probably the most greedy and selfish characters are Brigid O'Shaughnessy and Caspar Gutman. Brigid tells Spade in Chapter 9 that she was hired by Gutman to get the falcon away from its owner General Kemidov in Marmora but that she decided to keep it instead of delivering it to Gutman. Later when she had regained possession of the statuette in San Francisco and has agreed to give it to Gutman, she still can't part with it but gives it to Captain Jacobi to take to Spade. In the final chapter we learn that she murdered Miles Archer in order to rid herself of Floyd Thursby and not have to share the falcon with him.

Gutman's greed has motivated him to search for the falcon for seventeen years. His greed is what sets the whole story in motion, since he is the only character who initially knows anything about the history of the statuette or its true value. Even when he finds out that he has gotten a fake copy of the bird in Chapter 19, he decides to contiinue his quest for the real one. He tells Cairo:

"For seventeen years I have wanted that little item and have been trying to get it. If I must spend another year on the quest--well, sir--that will be an additional expenditure in time of only"--his lips moved silently as he calculated--"five and fifteen-seventeenths per cent."

Greed and selfishness lead directly or indirectly to the deaths of Miles Archer, Floyd Thursby, Captain Jacobi, and Caspar Gutman. Wilmer Cook will undoubtedly be executed for murdering Thursby, Jacobi and Gutman. Brigid may get off with twenty years in San Quentin--or she may hang.