Study Guide

The Maltese Falcon Lies and Deceit

By Dashiell Hammett

Lies and Deceit

Lies and deceit run rampant throughout The Maltese Falcon. Almost every single character tells a lie at one point in the novel, and the lying-est of all liars is of course Brigid O'Shaughnessy. In the relentless pursuit for the Maltese falcon, deception becomes a key tool that the characters use to stay on top. Trust is, therefore, the flipside to all the lies circulating in the novel. Trust defines Spade's relationships with the other characters, but it's also something that remains elusive for Spade. It's something he is always reaching for and can never quite catch. Since he's a lone wolf, Spade mistrusts nearly everyone, and usually for good reason. In a world where the end justifies the means, it's every man for himself.

Questions About Lies and Deceit

  1. How is Spade's distrust manifested in his actions? How important is distrust as an aspect of his character?
  2. Does anyone tell the truth in this novel? How do the characters use deception and for what purposes? Does Hammett suggest that in the modern world, there are no "truths"? Or does he imply that by peeling back layers of deception, one can ultimately reach the truth?
  3. In Spade's world, is it necessary to resort to deception in order to survive? Does trusting that someone is telling the truth lead to certain betrayal? Of all the characters, why is Sam the most difficult to deceive?

Chew on This

Brigid resorts to lying because it's the only way she knows how to survive in a dangerous world.

Sam Spade is the most difficult character to deceive because he doesn't trust anyone.

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