The Maltese Falcon | Study Guide

Dashiell Hammett

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The Maltese Falcon | Chapter 6 : The Undersized Shadow | Summary



While outside, Spade notices an "undersized youth" in his early 20s standing on his corner. He follows Spade to the Hotel Belvedere. Spade learns that Cairo is not at the hotel, so he goes to the Geary Theatre to look for him. He spots the same youth outside the theatre. Spade sees Cairo and asks him if he recognizes the youth, but he does not. Spade asks if he is "one of the others." Cairo responds, "That may be," but says he doesn't know him. Cairo enters the theatre and Spade heads home to change his clothes. Spade rides a streetcar to see Brigid but notices the youth is still following him. Spade gets off and rings three bells at an apartment building. Someone buzzes him inside. He exits the building through the back and walks the rest of the way to Brigid's apartment.

Brigid asks Spade if he has any news, and he assures her the police won't have to know about her existence. Spade says, "You aren't exactly the sort of person you pretend to be, are you?" He tells her he sees through her "schoolgirl manner, stammering, and blushing." She replies she has "been bad." He assures her not being innocent is a good thing.

Spade nonchalantly tells Brigid he just saw Joel Cairo. She becomes frightened and uneasy, surprised Spade knows him. He says he spoke to Cairo briefly, then observes Brigid's reaction. She walks around, trying to compose herself. He tells her again she is "good, very good" at putting on an act. He then tells her Cairo offered him $5,000 for finding the bird. Brigid has a visceral response to this news. She touches his arm, saying she trusted him to help her. Spade reminds her she "didn't say anything about any black birds." Brigid tells Spade she doesn't have that kind of money, then adds, "Can I buy you with my body?" In response Spade kisses her roughly "and contemptuously." Brigid says she needs to talk to Cairo but she is afraid of him. Spade says they can meet at his place.

When they arrive at Spade's apartment, Iva Archer is sitting in a car in front of the door. She wants to come up and talk to Spade, but he sends her home. She is upset at the sight of Brigid and complains to Spade that she doesn't seem to have "any rights" where he is concerned, despite his "pretending to love" her.


Spade is being followed by someone who is unrelated to Cairo, which means there may be more characters involved in this mystery. Spade is also playing one character against the other. He has figured out that Brigid is searching for the same bird as Cairo but they are not working as a team. How these pieces fit together is still a mystery, but the stakes are much higher now that Spade knows someone is willing to pay $5,000 for the statuette.

The relationship between Spade and Brigid is heating up. He has figured out she is not as innocent as she pretends. He can see she is desperate to find the black bird. Spade's sexist view of women is apparent in this chapter. He grabs her and kisses her roughly and with contempt after she offers him her body in lieu of money. He shows he will take what he can from any woman, and whenever he wants to. In contrast he ignores Iva Archer, with whom he had been having an affair when Miles was alive. It appears he was taking advantage of her, and now with Miles gone he has no more use for her.

The dynamic between Spade and Brigid is an unwholesome brew of deception and desire. It is possible Spade has met his match in Brigid as it becomes clearer she uses men in much the same way he uses women. When he tells Brigid she is "good, very good" Spade is calling her a fake to her face, an actress playing a part. After she tells him "I've been bad—worse than you can know," he accurately accuses her of using "the same words, the same tone" as she did earlier that day: "It's a speech you've practiced." Perhaps her duplicity is attractive to him in some way because he thinks he can see through it, placing him in a dominant position over her.

But Spade, too, is capable of playing of part. He stage-manages everyone around him, from the hotel employees who give him information to the police to his clients. Spade changes his facial expressions at will and chooses his words and tone of voice carefully for effect. In this way he sets the scene to his specifications. To manipulate female characters in the novel, Spade relies on his sexual magnetism. He manipulates the women's desire for him to produce a result he needs, such as Effie's unwavering loyalty or Iva's betrayal of her husband. In Brigid's case he wants to obtain information and angle for more cash at the same time.

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