Study Guide

The Maltese Falcon Loyalty

By Dashiell Hammett

Loyalty

"I've been bad—worse than you could know—but I'm not all bad. Look at me, Mr. Spade. You know I'm not all bad, don't you? You can see that, can't you? Then can't you trust me just a little?" (4.38)

This quote deals mainly with the issue of trust, but you can't be loyal to someone if you don't trust them. And in The Maltese Falcon, there are few people that are trustworthy and even fewer who are truly loyal.

"You picked a nice sort of playmate."

"Only that sort could have helped me," she said simply, "if he had been loyal."
"Yes, if." (4.75)

Yeah, that's a pretty if. And loyalty shouldn't be subject to such wishy-washy ifs and buts. Brigid tries to secure people's loyalties using her feminine charms, but it turns out that that isn't always enough to keep someone from betraying her. If you can't buy loyalty with money or charisma or sex, then how do you get it?

"Five thousand dollars is," he said for the third time. "a lot of money."

She lifted her shoulders and hands and let them fall in a gesture that accepted defeat. It is," she agreed in a small dull voice. "It is far more than I could ever offer you, if I must bid for your loyalty." (6.67)

In this corrupt world of lies and deceit, one's loyalty usually goes to the highest bidder. If Brigid had more money, would she try to buy Spade's loyalty?

"And you know I'd never have placed myself in this position if I hadn't trusted you completely."
[…]

Spade said: "That again!" with mock resignation.

"But you know it's so," she insisted.

"No, I don't know it. […] My asking for reasons why I should trust you brought us here. Don't let's confuse things. You don't have to trust me, anyhow, as long as you can persuade me to trust you." (7.19)

In this scene, we're dealing more with the question of trust, which is closely linked to loyalty. Spade explains to Brigid that he can't offer her his loyalty unless he trusts her. Is it possible to be loyal to someone without fully trusting them? Is loyalty the same as having blind faith in someone?

"You know I'm willing to go all the way with you all the time." Luke pushed his coffee back, put his elbows on the table, and screwed his eyes at Spade. "But I got a hunch you ain't going all the way with me. What's the honest-to-God on this guy, Sam? You don't have to kick back on me. You know I'm regular." (14.48)

Luke appeals to Spade's sense of honor by asking him to be on the level with him. Luke has always been loyal to Spade and gives him whatever information he asks for, so we think it's only fair that Luke would want the same kind of honesty and loyalty in return.

"But, my dear man," Gutman objected, "can't you see? If I even for a moment thought of doing it—But that's ridiculous too. I feel towards Wilmer exactly as if he were my own son. I really do. But if I even for a moment thought of doing what you propose, what in the world do you think would keep Wilmer from telling the police every last detail about the falcon and all of us?" (18.43)

Gutman claims here to care about Wilmer as if he were his own son, but we know that Gutman is only concerned about the falcon. When Gutman argues that Wilmer might betray all of them to the police, Spade suggests that there's one easy way to fix that: kill Wilmer to prevent him from talking. Is Spade bluffing here to get the bad guys to turn on each other, or is he actually advocating violence?

The boy looked at Gutman.

Gutman smiled benignly at him and said: "Well, Wilmer, I'm sorry indeed to lose you, and I want you to know that I couldn't be any fonder of you if you were my own son, but—well, by Gad!—if you lose a son it's possible to get another—and there's only one Maltese falcon." (19.60)

When Gutman realizes that the only way to get the falcon from Spade is to give him Wilmer, Gutman agrees to use Wilmer as the "fall guy." Gutman's sole loyalty is to the falcon, but he later gets his just punishment when Wilmer shoots and kills him for his betrayal.

Spade's face was yellow-white now. His mouth smiled and there were smile-wrinkles around his glittering eyes. His voice was soft, gentle. He said: "I'm going to send you over. The chances are you'll get off with life. That means you'll be out again in twenty years. You're an angel. I'll wait for you." He cleared his throat. "If they hang you I'll always remember you." (20.59)

In the most intense scene of the entire novel, Spade calmly informs Brigid that he's going to turn her over to the police for Archer's murder. Even though he admits he may have feelings for her, why does Spade ultimately betray Brigid? Is he avenging his partner's death or protecting his own neck?

He moved his shoulders a little and said: "Well, a lot of money would have been at least
one more item on the other side of the scales."

She put her face up to his face. Her mouth was slightly open with lips a little thrust out.

She whispered: "If you loved me you'd need nothing more on that side."

Spade set the edges of his teeth together and said through them: "I won't play the sap for
you." (20.88)

Is Spade joking when he says that if Brigid had more money, the scales would be tipped more in her favor? Is he saying that she could have bought his loyalty and silence, or is he being sarcastic? Despite caring about her, Spade is determined not to "play the sap" for Brigid because she was too certain of his loyalty to her.

"I won't because all of me wants to—wants to say to hell with the consequences and do it—and because—God damn you—you've counted on that with me the same as you counted on that with the others." (20.84)

Spade refuses to be used by Brigid, the way she used all the other men in her life. Is Brigid's confession of love for Spade a final desperate attempt to secure his loyalties? Is Spade unwilling to be faithful to her because she took his loyalty for granted?