The Maltese Falcon

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The Maltese Falcon Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Spade and Brigid enter the room and sit on the couch across from Gutman. Cairo and Wilmer lower their weapons and stand beside the couch. Gutman admits to the hoax of having his daughter trick Spade into looking for Brigid while they tried to find Captain Jacobi. In response, Spade offers to give the falcon to Gutman for the agreed upon $50,000 dollars, but Gutman instead produces an envelop with only ten one-thousand dollar bills in it. Gutman says this is the highest amount of money he is willing to pay. Without explaining that the key to the locker where he stashed the falcon will arrive in the morning mail, Spade tells them he cannot get the bird till morning.
Gutman’s greed makes him go back on his promise to pay Spade the original amount for the bird. While Gutman appears to be in control, Spade is the one with the falcon so he knows they can’t hurt him until he hands it over.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
Spade says the money doesn’t matter until they find a fall-guy on whom to pin the murders of Thursby and Jacobi in order to get the police off their trail. To everyone’s surprise, Spade suggests they tell the police Wilmer committed the crimes. Gutman politely refuses Spade’s suggestion, saying that Wilmer is like a son to him.
All along Spade made questionable moral decision, but having a man thrown in jail for a crime he didn’t commit is way worse than anything else he’s done. The narrative implies his desire for the ten grand outweighs his ethical integrity. Gutman, now, is the one who shows some ethics by privileging his love for Wilmer above an easy escape from the police.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
Spade tries to convince them to betray Wilmer, saying that Wilmer wouldn’t be able to sell out the rest of them since the police won’t believe anything Wilmer says once he’s been arrested. Spade explains that District Attorney Bryan doesn’t care if the police catch the actual killer since all that matters to him is bolstering his reputation as a DA who closes cases. Spade says that Bryan will stop investigating as soon as he has enough evidence to throw someone, even if that person isn’t guilty, in jail.
Spade implies that the justice system is corrupt in order to convince Gutman to betray Wilmer. It’s unclear how accurate Spade’s description of authority figures who care about their own reputations more than about getting justice really is, though it certainly seems plausible. If Spade’s description is accurate, then he exists in a world without any moral center at all, and indeed he acts like a man who has no outside moral or ethical pillars on which to lean or rely.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
Unable to listen to Spade’s plan any longer, Wilmer threatens to kill Spade. Gutman calms Wilmer by telling Spade that his suggestion is simply too impractical. Cairo suggests that they give the police Brigid instead of Wilmer. Spade says that if they can make her look guilty, then they should give her to them. Brigid gasps at his betrayal.
At this moment, the narrative tests how much trust we have in Spade’s code of ethics. Although he is the novel’s protagonist, we don’t know if he’d actually be willing to betray Brigid in such a cruel way.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Love and Sex  Theme Icon
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Spade tells Gutman that he hopes Wilmer’s gun is not preventing him from betraying Wilmer since Spade could easily take his gun away, just as he did the last time. At that, Wilmer points the gun at Spade but Gutman grabs Wilmer before he can fire. Spade rises from the couch and slowly approaches Wilmer, jabbing him in the face and taking his guns. In response for attacking Wilmer, Cairo feebly strikes at Spade but Spade easily pushes him off. Gutman agrees that Wilmer, who is now unconscious, will be their fall guy.
Gutman’s betrayal of Wilmer, who he considers like a son, reveals how greed makes people betray the ones they love. Though as Spade implies it is also possible that Gutman actually doesn’t feel such love for Wilmer and instead just doesn’t want to betray Wilmer when Wilmer is holding a gun. Whether love is real between two characters is never clear in the novel. Once again, Spade emasculates both Wilmer and Cairo by beating them in a fight despite not having any guns.
Themes
Greed Theme Icon
Masculinity, Femininity, and Sexuality  Theme Icon