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The Maltese Falcon | Quotes


I'll tell it or not as I damned please.

Sam Spade, Chapter 2

Spade expresses his indifference to the authority of the police. Spade prefers to set rules, not follow them, and he asserts his stubborn independence through a raw, realistic, and emphatic speaking style. This is typical of the way a hard-boiled detective speaks, cutting straight to the point in a barrage of monosyllables that he lets loose like bullets.


I never know what to do or say to women except that way.

Sam Spade, Chapter 3

Spade's comment reveals how limited his view of women is. He can only relate to them as sex objects, in a superficial and sexist way. This attitude is noticeable in the way he interacts with the three women in his life. He has an affair with Iva Archer, sleeps with Brigid O'Shaughnessy shortly after meeting her, and is provocative and flirtatious with Effie Perine. This one-dimensional approach allows him to see women as a means to an end, and he tends to think he can figure them out and manipulate them for his own purposes.


And when you're slapped you'll take it and like it.

Sam Spade, Chapter 7

This is an example of Hammett's naturalistic and irreverent writing style. Spade is not afraid to be violent when he feels the need, but his comment to Joel Cairo shows how Spade's violent behavior can quickly turn brutal. His tone here is cold, angry, and unforgiving as he hits Cairo with savage intensity, then sadistically insists that he enjoy it.


You've got away with this and ... that, but you can't keep it up forever.

Lieutenant Dundy, Chapter 7

Dundy has an antagonistic attitude toward Spade throughout the novel. Dundy accuses Spade of having too many close calls with the law. He doesn't fully trust Spade and thinks he gets away with things. Part of Spade's charm is that he can get away with so much as the result of his cynical viewpoint and impressive smarts, but Dundy's comment also points to what is problematic about Spade: his moral ambiguity. This ambiguity is what allows him to play with the boundary between what's right and what's wrong.


Give me another day like this, I'll soon be knowing things about it that you don't know.

Sam Spade, Chapter 9

The characters struggle throughout the novel with what they and others do or don't know about the statuette. Brigid and Spade are playing with each other about how much she will tell him or not tell about the bird when he makes this statement. Part of Spade's confidence as a detective is his assumption that he is not only likely to uncover the information he needs but also to know more about what he discovers than other people do, and to use what he knows to manipulate them to his own benefit. This comes to fruition at the end of the novel when he reveals to Brigid that he knows exactly how she killed Miles and vows to turn her in to the police.


I'm so tired ... of lying ... not knowing what is a lie and what is the truth.

Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Chapter 9

This is an example of verbal irony, in which a character says one thing but means another. Such a device is perfect for a scheming femme fatale like Brigid, who rarely says what she means. She lies or manipulates the truth on a regular basis to suit her own agenda. Most of her statements are not truthful, and she never seems to tire of lying. It's Brigid's victims who may be "tired" of "not knowing what is a lie and what is the truth" where she is concerned.


Here's to plain speaking and clear understanding.

Sam Spade, Chapter 11

Spade says this with a great deal of cynicism to Gutman as they begin their negotiations about retrieving the statuette. Spade knows that few characters speak plainly or provide a clear understanding of anything that has happened in The Maltese Falcon. They hide or alter the truth to protect their own self interests.


The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.

Sam Spade, Chapter 12

Spade makes this comment in response to Wilmer's threat to shoot him: "Keep riding me and you're going to be picking iron out of your navel." Instead of saying "I'll shoot you if you don't leave me alone," Wilmer's comment is full of slang, substituting "picking iron out of your navel" for shooting someone in the stomach. For a hard-boiled detective like Spade, his use of tough language mirrors his tough-guy persona. Spade's putdown implies that Wilmer's use of "gaudy" slang works the same way, proving that Wilmer is nothing more than a cheap, kept crook.


I wanted it, and I'm not a man that's easily discouraged when he wants something.

Casper Gutman, Chapter 13

Gutman is ruthless and will do whatever it takes to find the falcon. That includes murder and deceit. He has been searching for the statuette for 17 years, proving that he really isn't "easily discouraged." He is driven by his own self-interest, greed, and obsession.


We've got the damned thing, angel.

Sam Spade, Chapter 16

Spade finally has the statuette and shares his joy with Effie. Everything up to now has led to this moment. However, he doesn't realize that what he has is a fake so what should be his big moment in the story turns out to be nothing more than a disappointment. It is truly a "damned thing."


You know how to do things ... you'll land on your feet in the end.

Casper Gutman, Chapter 18

This statement is quite prophetic. Gutman tells Spade that he knows he's not afraid of trouble as he always comes out on top. At the end of the novel Spade will be the only character literally "left standing" as the others are carted off by the police or killed.


This is my city and my game.

Sam Spade, Chapter 18

This is the statement of a hard-boiled detective who knows all the nooks and crannies of his shady city and how to work them. Spade is an expert at interpreting events and manipulating them to achieve a result. He also knows how to handle the police. It's part of his job, or his "game." Spade's statement also refers to the fact that San Francisco is an integral part of the story. The setting is like a character in itself, with its shadows, gritty streets, and many dramas.


If you lose a son it's possible to get another ... there's only one Maltese falcon.

Casper Gutman, Chapter 19

There's an inherent coldness in this remark, giving things more importance than people or relationships. Gutman treats Wilmer in an almost fatherly way, yet he's willing to abandon him in order to get the falcon and protect himself. The characters are all isolated from each other, chasing only their own self-interests at the expense of meaningful relationships.


It's a fake.

Casper Gutman, Chapter 19

Everyone discovers that the statuette is fake. Even more sinister is the fact that they have been killing others to attain it. And like the statuette, they are all fake: fake friends and fake business partners. Their greed has led them nowhere.


From the first instant I saw you I knew.

Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Chapter 20

Brigid acknowledges that her motivation was love and not greed. The femme fatale wants Spade to believe that she is in love with him. Is this the truth, or is she just trying to get Spade to protect her and not turn her over to the police? Spade will have to decide if he can trust her, or trust love for that matter, if that is even what they are experiencing together. Love, like the Maltese falcon, remains hard to verify and out of reach to these difficult and tortured people.

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