The Maltese Falcon

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The Maltese Falcon Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
That evening, Samuel Spade wakes in the middle of the night to a phone call and the news that someone has died. Rolling a cigarette then dressing, he leaves his apartment to meet the person who called.
Not revealing who died, the narration withholds info from the reader for dramatic effect. Spade takes his time to act, showing both his general cool and his emotional aloofness.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Masculinity, Femininity, and Sexuality  Theme Icon
Fate and Death Theme Icon
The fog in the night blurs the streets as Spade makes his way to an alley where a group of men are huddled. Spade asks a police officer about Tom Polhaus, the police sergeant who phoned him. The officer directs him up the alley where he sees Polhaus examining the dead body of Miles Archer.
Like the many deceptions in the novel, the fog makes Spade’s surroundings seem disorientating. Archer’s death should occur as a surprise for the reader since the first chapter, “Spade & Archer,” sets him up as a main character.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Fate and Death Theme Icon
Polhaus shows Spade the English revolver that was used to kill Archer. Spade tells Polhaus about how Archer was on the job following Thursby. Spade appears emotionally detached at the sight of his dead partner and he refuses to inspect the body at Polhaus’ suggestion. He leaves Polhaus, claiming to need to tell Archer’s wife, Iva, about the murder. Instead, Spade goes to an all-night pharmacy and calls Effie, asking her to let Iva know about Archer’s death.
Spade tells Polhaus about Thursby, but he conceals the info about Wonderly and lies to him about calling Iva, illustrating how Spade is willing to lie to the police. In an example of his emotional detachment, Spade’s decision not to look at the body reveals an outward lack of concern for his dead partner.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Masculinity, Femininity, and Sexuality  Theme Icon
Fate and Death Theme Icon
Spade returns home, drinks three glasses of Bacardi, and starts rolling his fifth cigarette when Polhaus and Lieutenant Dundy knock at his door. When the officers ask if Spade told Iva about the death, he lies and says he did. Spade offers them a drink, but only Polhaus accepts. When they ask about Spade’s gun, he tells them he doesn’t carry one. Dundy expresses doubt and Spade, getting angry at their apparent suspicion, demands that Dundy tell him what’s going on.
Spade lies again to the police and shows little respect for authority figures. Spade’s decision not to carry a gun reveals the confidence he has in his ability to defend himself without a firearm.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
Masculinity, Femininity, and Sexuality  Theme Icon
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Dundy openly accuses Spade of slipping up and demands more info on Thursby and the client who wanted him followed. Spade says he doesn’t know anything else about Thursby and that he doesn’t disclose his clients’ identities until he has their permission. Dundy threatens Spade with legal action, telling him he’s withholding information in a murder case, but Spade coolly responds with outward indifference and mockery. Trying to provoke Spade, Dundy reveals that thirty minutes after Spade left the crime scene, Thursby was shot outside of the hotel where he was staying.
Dundy implies that Spade has a history of barely staying within the bounds of the law. Despite Dundy’s accusation, Spade shows his integrity by keeping to his professional code of ethics in his refusal to break Wonderly’s confidentiality. Though it is also possible that Spade may be refusing to give them her info because he doesn’t want the police, who he believes are incompetent, mishandling the murder case.
Themes
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
Masculinity, Femininity, and Sexuality  Theme Icon
Dundy states that Spade had ample time, a motive, and enough information about Thursby to hunt him down. Spade continues to drink, mocking Dundy while Polhaus tries to calm everyone’s tempers. After the officers provide Spade with the details of the murder, Spade candidly repeats that he knows nothing about the crime. The officers appear satisfied, but before leaving Dundy says that although he would find little fault in a man who seeks revenge for his partner, he would also have no problem putting that man in jail. Spade agrees and Dundy finally accepts his offer for a drink.
Although Dundy would not personally condemn a man for revenging his partner, he would still abide by the law and arrest that man for murder. Thus, although Dundy’s personal belief system conflicts with the law, Dundy implies that one must still follow the law even if one disagrees with it. Dundy’s strict adherence to the law contrasts with Spade’s bending/breaking of the law by lying to the police. At the same time, Spade seems to respect Dundy’s ethical adherence to the law, and it is this respect that finally gets Dundy to accept the drink.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon