Study Guide

The Maltese Falcon What's Up With the Ending?

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What's Up With the Ending?

Who doesn't love a good ol' plot twist at the end of a detective story? We're in for a treat because Maltese Falcon has not one, but two, plot twists:

(1) The Maltese Falcon turns out to be a fake, and
(2) Brigid turns out to be the murderer of Miles Archer.

This surprising turn of events is of course what makes The Maltese Falcon such a spot-on example of the mystery genre. And we applaud Hammett's ability to keep us guessing right up until the very last pages.

But beyond offering satisfying twist ending, these two events also give us a subtle commentary on Hammett's cynical view of human nature.

Wild Goose Chase, Anyone?

Even though the falcon is a fake, this doesn't seem to discourage Gutman for more than a few seconds. He immediately bounces back from his disappointment and vows to return to Egypt and attempt to pick up the trail leading back to this prized object.

What does Gutman's declaration say about the power and mania of human greed? Why is it inconceivable to Gutman to stop the chase, even though it has ended in vain more times than he can count? Hammett seems to be implying here that the pursuit of wealth is not only pointless, but also detrimental to human happiness. Gutman will never be satisfied until the falcon is in his hands, but if he never finds it or if it doesn't even exist, then he has already lost his chance to find happiness elsewhere.

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not…

As for the unpredictable Brigid O'Shaughnessy, it doesn't come as too much of a shock that she murdered Miles since she's pretty much lying for the entire novel. What comes as more of a surprise is Spade's rejection of the woman he loves but won't tolerate.

When Spade turns Brigid over to the police, is he upholding his professional code of ethics by refusing to let her get away with killing his partner? Or is he trying to save his own neck by sacrificing Brigid to keep himself off the police's list of suspects?

There are a bunch of ways to read Spade's final actions. He could be sacrificing his own love for Brigid in order to do the right thing by bringing justice to Miles' death. Or he could be using Brigid to keep himself out of the hot seat with the cops. Hammett maintains this atmosphere of moral ambiguity to suggest that even the motives of our protagonist murky and contradictory.

Nobody in this book (except maybe Effie) has much in the way of redeeming qualities. Even though Sam Spade is not doomed, he does get his comeuppance at the end, earning the contempt of Effie for betraying Brigid, and being left with the affection of Iva Archer, whom he doesn't want anymore. So much for happily ever after.

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