The Maltese Falcon

by Dashiell Hammett

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Characters Discussed

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Sam Spade

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

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

Casper Gutman, her fat, tough employer, who is attempting to get hold of the Maltese falcon. He is shot by Wilmer Cook.

Wilmer Cook

Wilmer Cook, Gutman’s young bodyguard, murderer of Thursby, Jacobi, and Gutman.

Joel Cairo

Joel Cairo, Gutman’s dark-skinned, flashily dressed one-time agent.

Miles Archer

Miles Archer, Spade’s middle-aged partner, solidly built, wide-shouldered, red-faced. He is shot and killed by Brigid.

Floyd Thursby

Floyd Thursby, Brigid’s murdered accomplice.

Iva Archer

Iva Archer, Miles’s wife, a voluptuous, still pretty blonde in her thirties; in love with Sam.

Kemidov

Kemidov, a Russian in Constantinople who has substituted a lead imitation for the genuine Maltese falcon.

Jacobi

Jacobi, captain of the ship La Paloma; killed by Wilmer.

Effie Perine

Effie Perine, Sam’s lanky, boyish-faced, suntanned secretary.

Rhea Gutman

Rhea Gutman, daughter of Gutman.

Characters

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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 innocent looking femme fatale, is a stock character in modern detective novels.

Characters

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Iva Archer
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,...

(This entire section contains 1901 words.)

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through the lawyer, what Iva was doing around the time of Miles’s death.

Miles Archer
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 Archer
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 a motive for killing Miles, and he tells it to the police.

Joel Cairo
Cairo is frequently referred to as “the Levantine,” referring to the eastern Mediterranean area he appears to have come from. He is described as effeminate in the way he dresses and in his behavior. From his tender concern for Wilmer and from references to a “boy” he had in Constantinople, it is inferred that Cairo is probably homosexual. He originally hires Spade to find the Maltese falcon, but only after searching Spade’s office at gunpoint. From the way that Gutman describes Cairo, it is clear that, when the situation requires it, he can be deadly. In the end, after losing his temper with Gutman, Cairo decides to join Gutman in continuing to travel the globe looking for the falcon.

Ted Christy
Christy, Effie Perine’s cousin, is a professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley. Spade sends Effie to him to confirm whether the facts of the falcon story are plausible.

Wilmer Cook
Formally known as Gutman’s “secretary,” Wilmer is a young man who tries to be tough and intimidating, a facade that Spade through verbal and physical attacks makes difficult to maintain. When Wilmer is trying to act cool in the lobby of Cairo’s hotel, Spade points him out to the hotel detective, who asks him to leave. Before entering Gutman’s hotel suite, Spade takes Wilmer’s guns away from him, telling him, “This will put you in solid with your boss.” After convincing Gutman and Cairo that they should give Wilmer up to the police, Spade punches him and knocks him unconscious. Wilmer’s hatred for Spade projects out toward other people. There is some indication, from the way that Cairo talks gently to him, that he and Cairo may once have had a romantic relationship, but Wilmer shouts obscenities at him. In the end, the police report that Wilmer killed Gutman, a father figure to him, with multiple shots.

Lieutenant Dundy
Of the two policemen who repeatedly come to visit Spade to find out what he knows about the events related to Miles Archer’s death, Dundy is the unsympathetic one, constantly looking for ways to have Spade’s detective’s license revoked or even to have him arrested.

Mr. Flitcraft
Spade tells Brigid O’Shaughnessy about a case he worked on as a detective in Seattle: Mr. Flitcraft, nearly killed by a falling beam from a skyscraper, ran away from his family to embrace life. After a few years, when the fear of death no longer haunted him, he remarried a similar woman and began a similar life in another nearby town.

Mr. Freed
Mr. Freed works at a desk in the St. Mark’s Hotel, where Brigid is registered as Miss Wonderly at the beginning of the novel. He is an acquaintance who gives Spade information and is discreet enough never to mention it to anyone else.

Casper Gutman
Gutman enters the novel as an almost mythical figure, as Cairo and Brigid refer to him in conversation by drawing the first letter of his name in the air, to keep his identity from Spade. When he does meet Spade, Gutman turns out to be a jolly, affable man, taken to frequent exclamations about one aspect or another of Spade’s character that he admires. He takes a paternal stance toward Wilmer, the guntoting youth who works for him, while his own daughter, Rhea, is never seen anywhere near him.

Gutman is obsessed with finding the Maltese falcon, having pursued it across the globe for seventeen years. He is willing to devote still more years toward his quest. In spite of his cheerful demeanor, he is perfectly willing to kill or betray anyone who stands in the way of his quest.

Rhea Gutman
Gutman’s beautiful seventeen-year-old daughter only appears in one scene in the book: After Spade has been called to the Alexandria Hotel to help Brigid O’Shaughnessy, he finds Rhea there, allegedly drugged, scratching her own stomach with a pin to keep awake. He later finds out that, after sending him off to a bogus address, she quickly exited the hotel, not drugged at all.

Captain Jacobi
The captain of the ship La Paloma, he carried the falcon from Hong Kong for Brigid O’Shaughnessy. When he delivers the bird to Spade’s office, he has already been shot several times, and he dies on the office floor.

Miss Leblanc
See Brigid O’Shaughnessy

Luke
Luke is the house detective at the Hotel Belvedere, where Joel Cairo is staying. He keeps Spade informed of Cairo’s activities, and when Spade points out that Wilmer is loitering in the hotel lobby, he chases the gunman out.

Brigid O’Shaughnessy
Brigid O’Shaughnessy originally hires Spade and Archer with a phony story about trying to find a man who ran off with her younger sister. She gives them a phony name, Miss Wonderly. Her objective is to have her accomplice in stealing the falcon, Floyd Thursby, followed. After Thursby and the detective following him, Miles Archer, are shot, she turns to Sam Spade for protection, telling him more and more about the falcon and why it is so valuable, but never fully revealing all that she knows. She is manipulative, telling Spade several times how much she needs him but then disappearing from his protection when she sees a chance to attain the falcon without his help. In the end, Spade finds out that O’Shaughnessy herself killed Miles Archer and, although he believes that he may in fact be in love with her, turns her over to the police.

Effie Perine
Effie is Sam Spade’s secretary, confidante, and, in some ways, surrogate lover. She knows enough about Spade’s tastes to convince him to talk to Brigid at the start of the story by pointing out how good-looking the potential client is; later, she champions Brigid, telling Spade that her women’s intuition has convinced her that Brigid is a good woman; at the end, when she finds out that he has turned Brigid over to the police, she turns against Spade in a way that she has not throughout the book. Spade’s interactions with Effie frequently include the kind of physical contact and terms of endearment that people of contemporary society find inappropriate in a business situation.

Tom Polhaus
Polhaus is Spade’s friend on the police force, a detective-sergeant. When he and Dundy interrogate Spade, it is Polhaus who asks Spade to behave reasonably, interceding between the two men when they start fighting.

Sam Spade
Spade is the hero of the novel. He is a veteran detective, telling a story at one point about a case he handled several years earlier when he was with a large agency in Seattle. He is defiant toward the law, but careful about just how defiant he can be without endangering his practice, consulting with his lawyer when necessary to make sure that he is not putting himself in legal jeopardy. And he gives clients and potential clients the impression that he is willing to break the law if he has to in order to attain the results they need. As Spade points out late in the book, he finds it good for his reputation as a detective to project this impression of corruptibility.

Spade is cynical in his relations with women. Before the start of the novel, he has been having an affair with Iva Archer, the wife of his partner. When she finds herself free to marry him after Miles Archer’s death, Spade makes it clear that he was just toying with her. He is in fact sick of Iva and angry when she manages to catch him alone. He never fully trusts Brigid O’Shaughnessy, forcing her to submit to a strip search in order to see if she has stolen some of the reward he has received for the Maltese falcon. Still, in spite of taking precautions against her possible betrayal, there are clear indications that he is in love with her.

The force that drives Sam Spade is a moral code that is more important than financial gain, power, or love. He has a sense of what is right and what is wrong, regardless of his personal feelings. He does, however, try to hide the fact that he is acting morally, preferring to explain away his actions as good business moves. Turning in Gutman and his crew, for instance, entails giving up the ten thousand dollars that they gave him, but he says that there is no other way to escape culpability in the crimes that they committed. In the end, though, after examining all of the reasons why it is right to send Brigid to jail, he cannot overcome his love for her without pointing out the bedrock moral rule that a man cannot let the murder of his partner go unpunished, even if it was a partner whom he detested.

Floyd Thursby
Thursby never appears in the novel. He is a hoodlum from St. Louis and Chicago, who met Brigid O’Shaughnessy in Hong Kong and helped her steal the Maltese falcon. In San Francisco, she hired Spade and Archer to follow him, assuming that Thursby would either be killed or scared away. He was killed by Wilmer to scare Brigid into giving up the falcon.

Sid Wise
Spade’s lawyer is a member of the firm Wise, Merican, and Wise. Several times, Spade consults with him about whether actions he is considering are legal or could be prosecuted. Spade sends Iva Archer to Wise after she has given the police false information, saying that Wise will protect her legally. Later, Spade has Wise tell him what Iva has said.

Miss Wonderly
See Brigid O’Shaughnessy

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