Study Guide

The Maltese Falcon Fate and Free Will

By Dashiell Hammett

Fate and Free Will

One of the most famous and important moments of The Maltese Falcon appears in Chapter 7 when Spade tells Brigid about the Flitcraft story. Several years ago, Spade was working on a case involving a man named Flitcraft who disappeared without warning. Hired by the wife to locate him, Spade finds him living (under an assumed name) a life very similar to the one he left behind. Flitcraft tells Spade that he was walking down the street after lunch one day when a beam "fell eight or ten stories down and smacked the sidewalk alongside him." Shortly afterward, the man left his family in an attempt to adjust his life to reflect his newfound understanding of the random nature of the universe. The irony being, of course, that his new life is just like his old one.

Spade tells Brigid that "Flitcraft adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling." Throughout the novel, circumstances change that are beyond the control of the characters. The way they adapt (or cannot adapt) reveals a great deal about their personalities. And for Spade, the Flitcraft story is meaningful to him because it reflects on the fickleness of fate and the inevitability of death. We can try and adapt as much as we can to the fact that someday we'll die, but in the end, there's no avoiding it.

Questions About Fate and Free Will

  1. Why is Spade so affected by the Flitcraft parable? What is Brigid's reaction to the story?
  2. Why is it significant that Hammett chooses to insert this "story within a story" the moment after Brigid first confides in Spade? Is Spade trying to open up to Brigid to show that she can also trust him?
  3. What is the thematic relevance of the Flitcraft story in relation to the rest of the novel?

Chew on This

Spade identifies with Flitcraft's desire to adjust to the unpredictability of death by deciding to change his life completely at random.

Brigid pretends to be fascinated by Spade's story of Flitcraft, but deep down, she finds the story unnerving and morbid.