Spade’s Identity Crisis

“Spade stood up, thrust his hands into the pockets of his jacket, and scowled at her. “This is hopeless,” he said savagely, “I can’t do anything for  you. I don’t know what you want done. I don’t even know if you know what you want.” She hung her head and wept. He made a growling animal noise in his throat and went to the table for his hat…..Spade made the growling animal noise in his throat again and sat down on the setee.”(Hammett, 39)

Sam Spade struggles with being in control of his masculinity and how his masculinity controls his identity. Hammett shows Spade’s struggle of masculinity and identity through changing the description of Sam’s “body like a bear”(12) to “grinned wolfishly”(48). A large bear is more powerful and forceful compared to a much smaller vocal canine animal such as a wolf. Hammett continues to describe Spade making a “growling animal noise”(39) or “grin[ing] wolfishly”(70). Sam’s animalistic persona makes an appearance when there is a question of control such as helping Brigid or fighting Cairo. While Sam Spade attempts to be composed, the imagery of a savage animal suggests that Sam Spade is losing with the power over his own identity. A wild animal cannot make thoughtful decisions and instead bases its actions on instinct, just as Sam seems to be doing.

Sam’s identity crisis is due to his addiction to women. The more Sam interacts with Brigid O’ Shaughnessy and other women, the greater Sam’s internal struggle becomes. Sam downfall begins when he has sex with a miscellaneous woman: following their intimate encounter, Spade’s body  “was like a shaved bear’s”(12). His loss of identity continues with Brigid.  Because Brigid is a woman, Sam views her as inferior. When he cannot help he feels “hopeless [and] he said savagely. ‘I can’t do anything for you”(39). Sam fumbles with the idea that a woman is in control. Brigid causes Sam to question his own identity by being mysterious, vague and upholding a masculine costume of “incredibly wicked, and an iron-molder by trade”(55). An iron-molder is intended to be a labor-intensive job for men. This imagery also implies Brigid has the ability to mold to the type of personality needed to obtain her needs, almost like magic of a “wicked” witch. The true mystery Hammet creates is Spade addiction to women that lead him to his demise.

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