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The Maltese Falcon | Symbols

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Maltese Falcon

The Maltese falcon is a symbol of extreme wealth. A statuette of a black bird encrusted with jewels, the falcon was originally intended as a tribute to be paid to a king in exchange for land. In the novel, however, it is a symbol of greed, deception, and corruption. For Gutman it has become an obsession. He has spent 17 years trying to find the statuette. For the others it is a way to get rich quickly. The statuette reveals the depths to which people will sink as they resort to violence, including murder, to get it.

The statuette is also a symbol of the impossibility of the characters' achieving their desires. When Gutman finally gets the Maltese falcon, it turns out to be a replica made of lead. The joke is on him, as the original remains out of reach. In the end, despite all their efforts no one possesses the statue, which remains in circulation, never to be found. The characters who have so desperately tried to hunt the Maltese falcon down are all either dead or in jail.

Flitcraft

The story of Flitcraft, which Spade tells Brigid in Chapter 7, is a parable, a brief narrative with a moral lesson. Flitcraft represents chasing a dream only to discover that when you get it, nothing really changes. When he realizes he has escaped a potentially dangerous accident, Flitcraft takes it as an omen that he needs to shake things up and change his life in a significant way, so he walks away from his wife and two children, his home, and job. He relocates to a new city, remarries, and has a child. But his new life is not noticeably different or daring in any way. Flitcraft fakes his own death and runs away from his family, only to end up recreating that same life somewhere else with a similar family. His dramatic gesture of changing his life has not really changed anything at all.

This circular story about Flitcraft illustrates the circular nature of the novel. The novel's characters are all in pursuit of the Maltese falcon. But in the end they don't find the statuette and are right back where they started. As the novel closes all of the characters are dead or imprisoned, and the Maltese falcon remains an unattainable dream.

Jeweled Gun

The jeweled gun Gutman uses in Chapter 19 is representative of several things. It is symbolic of his greed for wealth and jewels combined with his violent nature. It echoes the Maltese falcon itself, which is encrusted with jewels. It also symbolizes Gutman's feminine side, and the suggestion he may have homosexual tendencies. The gun's decoration sounds feminine. It is described as "ornately engraved and inlaid" with "silver and gold and mother-of-pearl." In contrast Spade doesn't even carry a gun. He's quite tough and masculine and would never carry such a weapon.

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