The Maltese Falcon | Study Guide

Dashiell Hammett

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The Maltese Falcon | Chapter 14 : La Paloma | Summary



Spade arrives at his office at 6 a.m. and finds Effie asleep at her desk. She explains she stayed there because Spade had told her to wait in the office until he returned. Spade's head is very sore and swollen from his meeting with Gutman.

Spade asks Effie to contact her uncle, a university history teacher, and ask him about the story of Emperor Charles V and the Maltese falcon. He leaves and checks out Brigid's, Gutman's, and Cairo's places, but none of them are around. At the Belvedere Spade asks Luke to check out Cairo's room, where he finds a copy of the Call newspaper in the wastebasket. A boat arrival notice has been ripped out.

Spade takes the paper and goes to the newspaper's office, where he picks up another copy in order to find the missing information: it is about the arrival of a ship from Hong Kong called La Paloma. Effie returns and tells Spade her uncle said the story about the falcon could be true. She mentions that on her trip back she saw a boat called La Paloma on fire.


This chapter serves to advance the plot. Spade has stumbled on a major clue that connects Cairo and Brigid—the arrival of the ship from Hong Kong. As always it is hard to figure out what Spade actually knows at any given time or if he has a theory about the importance of the ship. Due to the objective narration, we only know what Spade is thinking through his actions. But La Paloma will be of extreme importance in the novel and lead to the climactic turning point in Chapter 16. Effie's uncle has said the falcon story has some credibility, which is probably very reassuring for Spade. It shows that the falcon could be worth a lot of money. In a novel where there are more lies than truths, this is probably welcome news to Spade.

The fact that Effie is asleep at her desk shows how she is so totally devoted to Spade that she takes his orders literally. When he tells Effie to wait until she hears from him, that is exactly what she does. Effie's place in Spade's life is symbolically that of his wife. She is the only one who is truthful with him and devoted to him and his needs. In combination with her "boyish" looks, this may be why Spade doesn't sleep with her—he splits women into two categories: dishy dames he sleeps with and nice girls he does not. The critic William Marling makes this point, explaining that Effie is "Spade's appropriate partner." She becomes his "office wife," and Spade is always hugging her or holding on to her, although their relationship is not sexual.

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