Un-Whipped – A Maltese Falcon Reaction Paper

“Sure you are.” He took tobacco and papers from his pockets and began to make a cigarette. “Now you’ve had your talk with Cairo. Now you can talk to me.” She put a fingertip to her mouth, staring across the room at nothing with widened eyes, and them with narrower eyes, glanced quickly at Spade. He was engrossed in the making of his cigarette. “Oh, yes,” she began,”of course-” She took the finger away from her mouth and smoothed her blue dress over her knees. She frowned at her knees.

“She put a fingertip to her mouth, staring across the room at nothing with widened eyes, and then narrower eyes, glanced quickly at Spade.” Brigid O’Shaughnessy is an interesting character. Not only does she act as our femme fatal in The Maltese Falcon, but she is a character who can’t quite figure out what sort of character she wants to be. Earlier in the novel, she pistol whips Joel Cairo, a man who she is implied to have a history with, but then she is promptly found on a chair, crying and acting rather childish. In this passage, we see a more subtle part of her indecision as a character.

As Sam Spade is pulling tobacco and papers from his pocket to make a cigarette, something that Hammett has before turned into a descriptive sexual fantasy of sorts, we get to see Brigid’s response. As Spade rolls his cigarette, we see his character in control of that situation, but it’s also mirrored in his conversation with Brigid. Sam is the one rolling the cigarette, he’s also the one stating to Brigid that she can talk to him. He doesn’t ask her; he tells her.

Brigid responds with her own version of Spade’s cigarette. She “places a fingertip to her mouth, staring across the room at nothing with widened eyes.” Her response is subtly sexual, her finger in her mouth, mimicking Spade’s cigarette. Her widened eyes, however, give away her almost childish nature. But just like when she pistol whips Joel Cairo, we see her indecisive nature when she narrows her eyes. She makes an attempt to be more “hardboiled” even if Hammett portrays her as needing Spade. Hammett reverts her back to her more childish nature before the paragraphs end however, taking her finger away from her mouth and smoothing out her dress over her knees.

This is where the reader can see Hammett portray Spade as the “tall, strong, mysterious, hardboiled image of masculinity”, but this time we can see the portrayal through Brigid. The last sentence of the passage, “She frowned at her knees.” is reminiscent of Wilmer, the smart mouthed boy who shadows Spade earlier in the novel. Both characters, who are portrayed as childish (either all the time or in passages), have difficulty looking Spade in the eye. Brigid stares at nothing with wide eyes and then stares at her knees. Wilmer is able to bring his gaze up the Spade’s chin once. Hammett uses this illustration to say that neither character can measure up to Spade. They are both childish, whereas Spade is masculinity personified. Spade is in control, he is the one rolling the cigarette, he is the one asking the questions, he is the one telling (not asking) Brigid to talk to him.

This entire passage continues to place Spade in a position of power amongst all the other characters he encounters. It places Spade, the image of masculinity, at the top of the “food chain” of power. He is in control of his cigarette, he is in control of the conversation with Brigid. He even gets a slight jibe in at Cairo suggesting that he is superior to him, that Brigid has had her talk with Joel and it ended with Cairo getting pistol whipped. Now she needs to talk to him and he, the tall, strong, intelligent and above all else masculine hero, will succeed where Joel Cairo, the queer, fat, foreigner, failed.

– E.P. King

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E.P. King

Farmer boy, Permaculturalist, Barista, Photographer, Writer, Reader, Culinary Enthusiast. Tim Hegberg is an odd first year student at Dickinson College. He's been interested in photography for years, but picked up his first DSLR in 2007. Since then, he's traveled the United States and internationally taking photos along the way. He started experimenting with film that same year and taught himself to use Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. Most recently he filmed a trip to Maine in a 6 video series, experimentally shot with a DSLR camera. He is currently enrolled in a program to earn a Permaculture Design Certification from the Permaculture Institue of Australia and just finished an internship at Side By Side Farms/CSA in Freeland, MD. He's done professional videography for Treasure Times Cooking, LLC. between 2008 and 2011. His photography has been featured on the front page of TravelPod.com and occasionally writes articles for WhiteNoise and Medium.com. He also constantly has a sophisticated beverage and writes about himself in the third-person.