“Mr. Joel Cairo was a small-boned dark man of medium height. His hair was black and smooth and very glossy. His features were Levantine. A square-cut ruby, its sides paralleled by four baguette diamonds, gleamed against the deep green of his cravat. His black coat, cut tight to his narrow shoulders, flared a little over slightly plump hips. His trousers fitted his round legs more snugly than was the current fashion.” – p. 42
The paragraph in which Joel Cairo is first introduced to the reader is somewhat strange due to the fact that in merely seven short sentences there are two themes that repeat excessively. The first of these is the repetition of the word dark throughout the passage. The very first sentence even describes Cairo as a dark man with black hair. This motif is furthered in the next sentence when he is described as being Levantine. He also is dressed in all black, and is holding a black hat in his hands. The other interesting part of this passage is the strands of words and phrases that give Cairo an almost feminine look. He is depicted as a “small-boned” man of “medium height” who has “narrow shoulders,” “plump hips,” and “round legs.” The only thing angular in the description of Joel Cairo is the ruby that he wears. When compared to the portrayal of protagonist Sam Spade, who is depicted as completely angular and being rather large, Cairo clearly shares the aura of the other women in the work instead of the men.
Going back to the darkness motif, it is interesting that Hammett sketches Joel Cairo as such a dark person because, knowing that this work is considered part of the Film Noir movement, the reader immediately makes the connection that Cairo is not one of the “good guys” in the novel. Interestingly, the Film Noir movement also began in a time of great political and national insecurity, so when Hammett writes him as a Levantine Cairo assumes an even greater level of evil in the reader’s eyes. At this point in the plot Joel Cairo is the most despicable character in the work, and not only because he is described as being dark and the ever-feared foreigner. In order to truly comprehend the extent of Cairo’s evil nature his darkness must be examined alongside his femininity. Hammett absolutely intends for the two to be connected. Not only are the two ideas presented intertwined in the same passage, but also one of the main themes behind the “macho man” detective novels is that the manly men, and only the manliest of men, always win. Because Cairo is depicted as a dark man who is overly feminine, not only is he automatically declared the “bad guy,” but the belief that men are the heroes also becomes apparent. The repetition of darkness, and the strands referring to femininity are great sources of foreshadowing as to who the enemy will be throughout the remainder of the novel, and what force macho man protagonist Sam Spade will really be in conflict with. By doing some detective work of their own and analyzing Hammett’s words it is clear to the reader that the hero’s true conflict in the story is his internal struggle with masculinity.