The Maltese Falcon | Study Guide

Dashiell Hammett

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The Maltese Falcon | Chapter 9 : Brigid | Summary

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Summary

After the police leave Spade breaks down and is consumed with rage, talking "in a harsh guttural voice." He curses Dundy with obscene language then looks at Brigid and admits he hates "being hit without hitting back." He asks Brigid to tell him about her talk with Cairo, but she demurs and says they didn't have a chance to speak. Spade puts his arm around her and tries to get her to talk, but she does not. Instead she announces it's late and she should leave. Spade mentions the boy who is stalking him might be waiting downstairs. He offers to go down and look for him.

There is no sign of the boy, but when Spade returns he lies and tells Brigid he saw him. She decides to stay, and Spade asks bluntly about the falcon everyone is looking for. He warns her he likes to be unpredictable and will get the information. She says she is afraid of him, then describes the bird as "smooth and shiny ... a hawk or falcon" about a foot high. Brigid divulges the falcon was owned by "a Russian named Kemidov." She claims she doesn't know why the statuette is so important, but Cairo promised her money if she would help find it, with Thursby offering her even more.

She learned Cairo was going to take the bird after they found it. So she and Thursby took the falcon first, but Thursby didn't pay her the money he had promised. That's why she decided to hire Spade, "to get you to help me learn where the falcon was." Spade asks why it's worth so much money, but Brigid says she has no idea. Spade calls her a liar. Brigid looks at him and says, "I am a liar. I have always been a liar." Spade asks her if the story she just told him had any truth in it. She answers, "Some ... not very much." Spade laughs, Brigid kisses him, and they embrace.

Analysis

Spade and Brigid play games with each other by blending truths with lies. Spade doesn't want Brigid to leave so he tells her the apartment is being watched when it is not. The main lie Brigid tells is she doesn't know where the falcon is, which proves to be false later in the novel. She also claims not to know why it is so valuable, but she probably knows exactly why. Spade tries to get information out of her, but what she tells him is at best only partially true. The most honest thing Brigid says is she is a liar.

Spade understands Brigid is dishonest and manipulative. Rather than being shocked, his "voice [is] goodhumored" in response to her blunt admission that she is a liar. He asks her if there was "any truth at all in that yarn," referring to the story she told him about the Maltese falcon. She first responds "some," but when he presses her, she revises it to "not—not very much." Spade just laughs, then draws her closer, as if he finds her deceptions delightful. Brigid is shady, and, on some level, this seems to be part of her appeal for Spade. He has a taste for the illicit and forbidden, as his affair with Iva shows. Spade may also enjoy the way he can see through Brigid's act, perhaps because it allows him to dominate her.

But readers may wonder if Spade may be overconfident about his knowledge of Brigid. Just because he can expose the machinery behind her manipulations doesn't mean he has the full story on her. But like Brigid, Spade can be shady. Beyond what he says to her directly when he exposes her "act," it is often hard for readers to pin down exactly how much Spade knows or doesn't know about Brigid—or anything else. Readers know about some of the lies characters tell (such as Spade's telling Brigid that the boy is waiting outside when he is not). But the third-person objective narration does not give readers literal knowledge of the characters' thoughts or feelings, which allows the hard-boiled detective himself to remain a man of mystery.

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