Study Guide

The Maltese Falcon Lies and Deceit

By Dashiell Hammett

Lies and Deceit

"The lie was in the way I said it, and not at all in what I said. […] It is my own fault that you can't believe me now." (4.41)

Why does Brigid make a distinction between the "way" she lied and "what" she lied about? Is there really a difference? In most cases, a lie is a lie is a lie, but Brigid is trying to show that there are different forms of lying, and some are more "truthful" than others.

He said: "I've got nothing against trusting you blindly except that I won't be able to do you much good if I haven't some idea of what it's all about. For instance, I've got to have some sort of line on your Floyd Thursby."

"I met him in the Orient. […] We came here from Hongkong last week. He was—he had promised to help me. He took advantage of my helplessness and dependence on him to betray me."

"Betray you how?"

She shook her head and said nothing. (4.61)

Spade's trust isn't easily attained, and he expects Brigid to give him more information before he's willing to believe her. Do you think Brigid is telling the truth about Thursby? Why is she so hesitant to confide in Spade? She refuses to come clean with Spade and expects him to help her just on blind faith, but is this really fair?

Dundy scowled down at the girl and asked: "What do you want us to think the truth is?"

"Not what he said," she replied. "Not anything he said." She turned to Spade. "Is it?"

"How do I know?" Spade responded. "I was out in the kitchen mixing an omelette when it all happened, wasn't I?" (8.25)

In this scene, lies are spread so thick that it's hard to see. Cairo has accused Brigid of attacking him, whereas Brigid claims that Cairo started it. It's impossible to figure out who's telling the truth, and we can't blame Dundy for feeling frustrated. Even Spade is lying through his teeth during this entire exchange because he's trying to keep the police in the dark.

"Try telling the facts," Dundy suggested.

"The facts?" Cairo's eye fidgeted, though their gaze did not actually leave the Lieutenant's. "What assurance have I that the facts will be believed?"

"Quit stalling." (8.45)

In a novel so full of lies, how do we sort out the true facts? Cairo senses that even if he were to tell the truth, it wouldn't be believed. What does this say about the sorry state of society if the so-called saying that "the truth shall set you free" no longer holds true? Is this why Brigid also tells so many lies, in an effort to protect herself when the truth won't?

Dundy said: "Horse feathers."

Spade said: "That's all right, Dundy, believe it or not. The point is that that's our story and we'll stick to it. The newspapers will print it whether they believe it or not, and it'll be just as funny one way as the other, or more so. What are you going to do about it? It's no crime to kid a copper, is it? You haven't got anything on anybody here. Everything we told you was part of the joke. What are you going to do about it?" (8.65)

Spade continues to play the role of the pesky private detective causing trouble for the police. He fibs that he'll go to the newspapers to print the story, which will only lead to embarrassment for the police department. What's interesting about Spade's speech is that he sees the newspapers as a corrupt organization. Newspapers no longer care about printing the real facts. They will print whatever sells, whether they believe it's true or not. Hammett isn't exactly portraying a rosy picture of society in the thirties.

Her eyelids drooped. "Oh, I'm so tired," she said tremulously, "so tired of it all, of myself, of lying and thinking up lies, and of not knowing what is a lie and what is the truth." (9.96)

Brigid is the girl who cried wolf one too many times. Here, Spade wants to believe her that she's tired of lying, but he can't even tell if she's being honest about not wanting to lie. Talk about a catch-22. Brigid's inability to distinguish between a lie and the truth emphasizes just how murky the waters have become.

"You do what you want, but if I were you I'd tell Sid the truth or nothing. I mean leave out the parts you don't want to tell him, but don't make up anything to take its place."

"I'm not lying to you, Sam," she protested.

"Like hell you're not," he said and stood up. (11.29)

Spade's mistrust is raising its ugly head again in this scene with Iva. He clearly doesn't believe Iva's story that she was at home the night Miles was killed. His advice to Iva is also worth taking note of because he's okay with her omitting facts. What he's not okay with would be if she made things up to replace the truth. How is omitting facts any different from outright lying?

"I do like a man that tells you right out he's looking out for himself. Don't we all? I don't trust a man that says he's not." (11.65)

Gutman is a skilled manipulator, but he's honest about his motives and appears to appreciate Spade's honesty. In a way, Gutman even seems to trust Spade. Spade of course doesn't trust Gutman at all, but he's less suspicious of Gutman's motives because at least he's upfront about them.

"Everybody," Spade responded mildly, "has something to conceal." (15.66)

Spade's mistrust stems from the simple fact that he believes everyone is hiding something. Even Spade himself is hiding information from the police about his affair with Iva. Are there any characters in the novels that aren't hiding anything?

Brigid O'Shaughnessy blinked her tears away. She took a step towards him and stood looking him in the eyes, straight and proud. "You called me a liar," she said. "Now you are lying. You're lying if you say you don't know down in your heart that, in spite of anything I've done, I love you."

Spade made a short abrupt bow. His eyes were becoming bloodshot, but there was no other change in his damp and yellowish fixedly smiling face. "Maybe I do," he said. "What of it? I should trust you? You who arranged that nice little trick for--for my predecessor, Thursby? You who knocked off Miles, a man you had nothing against, in cold blood, just like swatting a fly, for the sake of double-crossing Thursby? You who double-crossed Gutman, Cairo, Thursby—one, two, three? You who've never played square with me for half an hour at a stretch since I've known you? I should trust you? No, no, darling. I wouldn't do it even if I could. Why should I?" (20.68)

In this electrifying scene, Brigid confesses her love for Spade, who also admits that he has feelings for her. But Spade still can't let go of his mistrust of Brigid because she has lied to him from day one. Spade probably wants to believe that she loves him, but he can't let herself because she has double-crossed him one too many times. Do you think Brigid is telling the truth when she says she's in love with Spade, or is this just another lie to save her neck?