The Maltese Falcon | Study Guide

Dashiell Hammett

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The Maltese Falcon | Chapter 3 : Three Women | Summary

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Summary

Iva Archer is waiting in Spade's office when he arrives at 10:00 a.m. They hug and kiss, and Iva asks him if he killed Miles. He denies it and comforts her, and she asks him to come to her that evening. He says he will see her soon but not tonight. After she leaves Effie asks if he has plans to marry Iva. It is clear Spade has been having an affair with Iva, but he says he has no intention of marrying her.

Effie rolls a cigarette for Spade, and as he talks to her he "put[s] an arm around her slim waist, and rest[s] his cheek wearily against her hip." She tells Spade when she arrived at Iva's apartment the previous night it was obvious Iva had just gotten home. She theorizes Iva may have killed Miles, an idea Spade immediately rejects. He compares Effie to Lieutenant Dundy and says he may have talked the police out of suspecting him of shooting Miles. She tells Spade he is "too slick for [his] own good." He tells Effie to remove the name "Archer" from the office door, then leaves.

Spade goes to Miss Wonderly's hotel and learns she checked out that morning. A hotel clerk named Mr. Freed tells Spade he had seen Miles sitting in the lobby the night before. Spade also finds out Miss Wonderly has left a forwarding address—the Ambassador, a hotel in Los Angeles. Spade returns to his office to learn Dundy had stopped by to see Spade's guns but Effie refused to show them to him. She also informs him Miss Wonderly called and said she was staying at the Coronet Apartments under the name Miss Leblanc. Spade then burns the paper the information is written on and leaves.

Analysis

As the title implies, this chapter touches on Spade's relationships with three women—Iva, Effie, and Miss Wonderly. These relationships reveal important aspects of Spade himself. First he acts as each woman's object of desire, showing how Spade is a kind of catnip to women. Second Spade can only see women in a sexual context, admitting, "I never know what to do or say to women except that way." Finally Spade attempts to control each of the women, manipulating them to go where he wants them to go and do what he wants them to do.

Spade has been having an affair with Iva, his partner's wife. Though Iva may be in love with Spade, he doesn't appear to feel the same way about her, and he is actively trying to avoid her. Given his dislike of Miles, perhaps the affair is a bit spiteful or competitive on his part as well. What is certain is Spade and Iva are capable of lies and deceit, as their illicit affair proves. When Iva asks Spade if he killed Miles, it may sound like melodramatic wish fulfillment on her part because she wants to marry Spade. But given the seedy world of The Maltese Falcon, where there are secrets and lies around every corner, her question doesn't seem entirely unreasonable. Spade's response, however, is to laugh at Iva, give her a placating kiss, and steer her toward the door in a typical attempt to manage her.

Effie appears to be more perceptive about Spade. She calls out Spade's manipulation of Iva, "the way [he's] played around with her." But Spade keeps Effie under control, too, by sexualizing their interactions. He gets what he wants by praising her, calling her names like "sweetheart" and "darling," and holding her and rubbing his face against her hip. She even rather symbolically rolls his beloved cigarettes for him.

In the novel this intimacy motivates Effie to do anything Spade asks of her, even though they are not romantically or sexually involved. She's probably in love with her boss or at the very least powerless to resist his affection. Effie sounds more than a little jealous of Iva, asking Spade if he's going to marry her and even positing that Iva may have killed Miles. When Spade claims his dislike of Miles played a part in his affair, Effie doesn't buy it, noting bitterly how the fact that Iva is stunningly attractive was probably the deciding factor. As the chapter closes, when he leaves to see Miss Wonderly, likely with sex in mind, Effie looks at Spade with "disapproving eyes," but he dismisses her with a blunt statement: "That's just the way it is, dear."

Spade relies on clerks and hotel detectives for behind-the-scenes information on several occasions. In this context what is revealed or concealed is just as important as what is said or not said in controlling the flow of information, and thus the perception of reality. Freed doesn't hesitate to give Spade information about Miss Wonderly, for example, but Spade is careful to ask him to "forget that I asked for it." He also cautions Freed about Harriman, the hotel detective. When Freed asks if he should ask Harriman not to mention seeing Miles in the hotel the night before, Spade tells him not to because Harriman can be indiscrete: "I'd as lief not have him think there's anything to be kept quiet."

Miss Wonderly—or now, Miss Leblanc—is an enigma at this point in the story. But her questionable ways are slowly coming to light. She gives the hotel a forwarding address in Los Angeles, but she lets Spade know she is actually in San Francisco at the Coronet Apartments under a different name. An attractive woman living alone under an alias who asks him to visit her in her apartment? This implies to Spade that though their relationship is still just a business arrangement, it will soon become sexual. At this point in the novel, however, it is hard to tell to what extent Spade is really in control of the situation. He may be able to manage Iva and Effie, but how will he manage this mysterious other woman?

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