The Maltese Falcon | Study Guide

Dashiell Hammett

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The Maltese Falcon | Chapter 7 : G in the Air | Summary

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Summary

Spade tells Brigid the story of a wealthy man named Flitcraft who disappeared one day without a trace, leaving behind a wife and two sons. Five years later he was spotted in a different city, living with a new wife and child. Spade tracked him down and spoke to him. Flitcraft "had no feeling of guilt." When his first wife found out what he had done, she divorced him. Flitcraft explained how he had decided to vanish. He was passing a construction site one day when a beam fell down next to him. The only injury he suffered was a scratch to his cheek, which left a scar. The incident shocked him and made him look at his life in a different way. He decided to change his life in the same sudden way by disappearing and starting over. But his new life was ultimately as "safe" and predictable as his old one. Flitcraft experienced a fine example of dramatic irony, in which a gap occurs between what is expected to happen versus what actually occurs. He assumed if he reinvented himself he would have a new life, when, in fact, he wound up in the same situation.

The story has no impact on Brigid who is worried about confronting Cairo. She tells Spade she's only doing it because she trusts him. Spade responds by saying, "You don't have to trust me, anyhow, as long as you can persuade me to trust you." Cairo arrives and reports that "the boy"—the young man who had tailed Spade earlier—is outside the house. Cairo and Brigid greet each other, and Brigid asks him how soon he can have the money ready for the statuette. Cairo says he has the cash available now. Brigid tells him she doesn't have the falcon but will in about a week. Thursby hid it, and she may know where. Cairo asks what happened to Thursby, and Brigid traces a letter "g" in the air.

Cairo and Brigid insult each other about the boy waiting outside, then slap each other in the face. Spade grabs Cairo and shakes him by the throat, then hits him on "the side of his face three times, savagely." Spade slaps him again and cuts Cairo's lip as the doorbell rings. Two members of the police force, Dundy and Polhaus, want to come inside but Spade tries to keep them in the hall. Dundy cautions Spade to "play along," but Spade says arrogantly, "Stop me when you can." Dundy accuses Spade of cheating on Miles Archer with Iva, and then killing Miles because he wouldn't give Iva a divorce. Spade denies it and asks sarcastically if they are going to pin all of the killings in San Francisco on him. Polhaus jumps in and says they "don't like this any more than" he does, but they have to do their work. As they are about to leave Cairo yells for the police.

Analysis

The Flitcraft story is never mentioned again, and Flitcraft is not a character in the book. So why does Hammett include it, and what purpose does it serve? The answer may be that Flitcraft represents chasing an "impossible dream" and finding out that nothing really changes. He runs from his life only to end up recreating that same life in a different setting. The characters in the book all chase the Maltese falcon and in the end realize that they have nothing and are right back where they started. Flitcraft's circular story is perhaps intended as a cautionary tale, though its meaning is lost on Brigid at this point in the story. Flitcraft may also symbolize alienation and the meaninglessness of life that creates a circle of absurdity.

When Cairo and Brigid have their little argument, Brigid accuses him of being a homosexual, and he accuses her of being a whore. They discuss the boy who has been following Spade, and Brigid asks Cairo if he's "the one you had in Constantinople." Cairo counters with, "The one you couldn't make?" Their exchange shows how sex and sexuality throughout The Maltese Falcon are less erotic or romantic than a means to gain and exert power.

The theme of trust is woven through this chapter. Spade is skeptical of Brigid and is not sure he can trust her. Brigid has trust issues with just about everyone. Now that Spade might be working for Cairo—and for a lot more money—why should she trust he can help her? Cairo certainly doesn't trust Spade or Brigid, who can both turn on him in their own pursuit of the statuette. Lieutenant Dundy doesn't trust Spade since there is a possibility he and Iva conspired to murder Miles so they can be together. This lack of trust is demonstrated in one of the novel's most familiar devices, in which the dialogue takes the form of a verbal negotiation, with characters trying to figure each other out or obtain more information so they can maximize their profits or obtain some other result.

Spade's use of physical violence shows how well he fits the mold of the hard-boiled detective. When Brigid slaps Cairo during their argument, Cairo slaps her back. Spade steps in, shaking Cairo by the throat, forcing him to drop his gun. He hits him again and tells Cairo that he'll "take it and like it." Finally he slaps Cairo's mouth, drawing blood. The hard-boiled detective does not shrink from using physical violence, and that violence can get quite nasty. His capacity for violence is another sign of Spade's moral ambiguity, but, at the same time, adds to his allure. Spade doesn't use a gun, and his ability to defend himself using his bare hands against people who have weapons is another sign of his masculine status. There may also be some pleasure for Spade in knocking Cairo around so much, then telling him to "take it and like it," as the heterosexual detective beats up the homosexual villain. While this is clearly homophobic behavior, at the time of the novel's publication in 1930 Spade's actions toward Cairo could be yet another sign of his fulfillment of traditional masculine values.

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