Sam Spade and Betrayal

Page 90: “Red rage came suddenly into his face and he began to talk in a harsh guttural voice. Holding his maddened face in his hands glaring at the floor, he cursed Dundy for five minutes without break, cursed him obscenely, blasphemously, repetitiously, in a harsh guttural voice. Then we took his face out of his hands, looked at the girl, grinned sheepishly, and said: ‘Childish, huh? I know, but, by God, I do hate being hit without hitting back’.”


This passage occurs at the beginning of Chapter 9. Spade returns from the standoff with Cairo, Dundy, and Brigid. He has just been slapped by Cairo and unable to return the aggression, as Cairo was asked to leave immediately. At first glace, the strand of aggression presented in this paragraph seems most obvious. Hammett’s use of “obscenely”, “blasphemously”, and “red rage” quickly portray Spade’s anger at the situation. Upon second look, the repetition of “harsh guttural voice” and “cursed” becomes more apparent, as each phrase appears twice.

This passage is pivotal to the reader’s understanding of Sam Spade. It is a turning point for his character. Throughout the novel, we see Sam as angry, but very calculated; he is always careful not to let his emotions show around other people. Here, this is not the case. He blatantly expresses his anger towards Dundy and Cairo right in front of Brigid. Cleary, Sam Spade needs an emotional outlet and is not quite as cool and collected as he seems.

I think that Spade was so upset over this turn of events because he let others have control and take the best of him. From reading the previous chapters, one can see that Spade has mistrust for authority figures. Again, one can assume that this is because of his lack of control. Also, Sam Spade has no aversion to violence. In fact on page sixty-nine of the novel he says to Cairo, “And when you’re slapped, you’ll take it and you’ll like it.” Curiously, it is only when Spade is slapped and cannot reciprocate the action, does violence become a problem. This too highlights Sam’s dominant personality.

Sam Spade clearly is struggling with some issues in this passage and throughout the novel. I think that Spade has been betrayed by someone he trusted in his past, possibly an authority figure, and that is why he is so independent and mistrusting of others. Betrayal is quite evident throughout the plot as he refuses to trust Brigid, Cairo, or the policemen who he seems to be friendly with, and also continuously betrays Effie Perine, Iva Archer, and Brigid O’Shaughnessy, each of whom believe to have some kind of romantic relationship with Sam Spade.

Spade controls his love triangle as he controls his business: quietly and by himself. When dealing with clients or business partners he keeps his emotions to himself and calculates what he says and how he says it very precisely. He relies on no allies and has himself as the main priority in any situation. As the plot evolves, we see Sam Spade become increasingly more temperamental. He dishes out violence and harsh words at an intensifying rate. Clearly, Sam Spade would rather be the bully than the bullied and I think that this is because of betrayal from a past relationship or event in his life.

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