The atmosphere in this novel is frequently one of competition, rivalry and male aggression. Many of the male characters in this novel are macho, gritty tough guys. There are countless fistfights, arguments, and shootouts that arise out of a sense of challenged masculinity. The men in The Maltese Falcon always talk tough and language becomes a way of asserting one's manliness. On the flipside, we also see some examples of a limited or complete lack of masculinity. For example, Cairo is portrayed as an effeminate homosexual, and some readers of Hammett are critical of the homophobic-seeming tone of certain passages in The Maltese Falcon, where unmanly behavior is looked down on as something unnatural or immoral.
Questions About Men and Masculinity
How is manliness and masculinity treated in the novel? How would you compare Spade to the other male characters in the book? How is he different than others around him—his partner Miles, the bad guys Gutman and Cairo, the policemen?
Which of Spade's character traits signal and reinforce his masculinity? Is Sam a "modern" man or a character that reinforces traditional notions of masculinity?
How does Spade treat the female characters in the novel? Is a misogynistic character? What does Sam mean when he tells Brigid at the end of the novel, "I won't play the sap for you"?
In many ways, Joel Cairo is a clear stereotype, and Hammett has occasionally been accused of being homophobic in his portrayal of Cairo as a homosexual. What kinds of stereotypes does Hammett fall prey to in his depiction of homosexuality? What is the role of homosexuality within this hyper-masculine world run by tough guys?
Chew on This
Cairo's homosexuality serves as an important contrast to the overly masculine, testosterone-driven cast of male characters that appear in the novel
Spade's cold, oftentimes callous, treatment of Iva and Brigid signals that his attitude towards women can be seen as misogynistic.