Study Guide

The Maltese Falcon Principles

By Dashiell Hammett

Principles

Our protagonist Sam Spade is a cynical detective who struggles to maintain his integrity within a corrupt society. He lives in a society where crime is so pervasive that he can't leave the house without carrying a loaded gun. Spade lacks reliable moral guidance since traditional social institutions like the police department or the justice system are themselves corrupt. So Spade has to rely on his own set of principles to carry out his job. The sticky part here is that Spade isn't afraid to bend the rules, even his own rules. We'd like to think that Spade is always an upright, honest guy, but turns out that his motives aren't always clear and The Maltese Falcon ends on a morally ambiguous note.

Questions About Principles

  1. Is Spade committed to his profession? Does he follow a moral code of conduct, or does he operate mostly on self-interest?
  2. Is it possible to decide between what's right and wrong in the world of The Maltese Falcon? Are there gray areas where issues of morality are ambiguous?
  3. How does Spade attempt to remain honest in a corrupt society? Does he succeed or fail?
  4. Does Spade do the right thing at the end of the novel when he turns Brigid over to the police?

Chew on This

Spade sacrifices his love for Brigid in order to bring justice to his partner's murder.

Spade turns Brigid over to the police in order to save his own neck and keep the police off his back.

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