The Maltese Falcon

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The Maltese Falcon Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As soon as they leave, Spade calls Polhaus and lets him know that Wilmer killed Thursby and Jacobi on Gutman and Cairo’s orders. After hanging up, Spade tells Brigid that she needs to tell him her role in the murders so that he will be able to protect her from the police interrogation. She tells him that Gutman employed her and Cairo to steal the falcon, but that she and Cairo double-crossed Gutman and stole it for themselves. But when she feared Cairo would turn on her, she employed Thursby for protection. She and Thursby went to Hong Kong to escape Cairo and Gutman, but there she decided she couldn’t trust Thursby so she gave the statue to Jacobi to take to San Francisco.
Even though Spade took Gutman’s money, he calls the police in order to get justice. Spade, however, may have ulterior motives. Since the falcon was a fake and Spade cannot make any money, he has no reason to protect the criminals. So, in order to get the cops to stop investigating the murder case (since he is a suspect after all), he turns in the criminals. As of yet, we don’t know if self-preservation or justice is driving Spade to act.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
Spade infers that Brigid wanted to get Thursby out of the way so she could keep the profits from the statue for herself. Spade says that she hired Archer to follow Thursby and make him think that Dixie Monahan’s debt-holders were looking for him. In order to scare Thursby off, Brigid says that she pointed out Archer to Thursby the night Archer was following them, adding that if she knew Thursby would kill Archer she would never have done that.
Unlike Gutman who appears to tell Spade the truth about his and Wilmer’s involvement in Thursby’s murder, Brigid cannot stop lying. She tells Spade that she didn’t trust Thursby, but Spade realizes she just was greedy and didn’t want to share the profits. Her greed gets Archer killed, though she denies responsibility for his death.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
Spade reasons that Thursby couldn’t have killed Archer since Archer would have been drawn into the secluded alley only by someone he knew and trusted. Spade accuses Brigid of killing Archer by seducing him into the alley and then shooting him with Thursby’s gun, hoping that the police would arrest Thursby for the crime. But after she heard Thursby was shot, she knew Gutman was in town and she would need another protector. Afraid of Gutman, she went back to Spade for help.
Again, Brigid and Spade face off in a kind of chess match of deceptions and skeptical insight. According to Spade’s theory, Brigid’s greed turns her into a heartless villain who killed a total stranger just so she could frame a man who’s been helping her so as to increase her own profits. If this accusation is true, Brigid seems just as bad or even worse than even Gutman.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
Thinking he will still help her, Brigid confesses to the crime. Spade, however, tells her that she’ll probably be sentenced to twenty years in jail for killing Archer. Surprised that he’s unwilling to help her, Brigid asks if he loves her. Spade says he won’t risk going to jail just because he may have romantic feelings for her. More than love, however, Spade says he wants justice for his partner despite acknowledging that he didn’t even like or respect Archer.
This is a definitive moment, for two reasons. The possible relationship between Brigid and Spade comes to a climax here, as Spade is faced with protecting a woman he may care for versus getting justice for his partner (whom he neither liked nor respected). That he chooses justice for his partner suggests three things: first, that he does not put much stock in love in general; that he does not trust that Brigid truly loves him (which in some ways is a just a variant of the first reason, as Spade finds love innately hard to trust because there can be no proof of it; and, finally, that he does have a code of ethics that pushes him to seek justice no matter what.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
Love and Sex  Theme Icon
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Brigid asks if the falcon had been real and he got his money, would he still have turned her in. Spade answers that the falcon wasn’t real, but also that he’s not as crooked as he seems, implying justice matters more to him than money. At that moment, the cops arrive, tell Spade they’ve arrested the criminals, and take Brigid away. Spade gives them the one-thousand dollar bill as evidence of Gutman trying to bribe him, but the police tell Spade that Wilmer already killed Gutman before they had a chance to arrest him.
At last, Spade reveals his steadfast ethical code, saying he only acted crooked in order to catch the real criminals. Even if he was offered the $50,000, Spade claims he would still have sought justice. Spade also gives the “bribe” he took from Gutman to the cops as evidence against Gutman, emphasizing how justice matters more to him than money. Meanwhile, that Wilmer killed Gutman shows the inevitable result of deception and betrayal: in this case Wilmer, who thought Gutman loved him, turns on Gutman after Gutman betrayed him.
Themes
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
Love and Sex  Theme Icon
The next morning at the office, Effie asks if the papers were right in reporting that he turned in Brigid. Spade confirms the story and she looks at him with contempt, saying that he did the right thing but that she’s still disgusted that he would turn on some who loved him. At her rejection, Spade turns pale and goes to his desk. As he sits down, there is a knock at the door. Effie comes into his private office and says Iva wants to speak with him. With some reluctance, Spade tells Effie to let her in.
Effie’s reaction reveals that sometime justice and loyalty cannot always coexist. Spade cannot do right by a woman who loved him and do right by his dead partner. Since Effie has been a source of morality, her disapproval makes Spade rethink his decision, makes him face the fact that he turned down the chance at love, for a woman who seemed his equal, for justice. And in the last moment Spade is faced with a further result of his choice: having given up on a chance at love with a woman who was his equal; having betrayed a chance at love in favor of justice; Spade must now confront Iva’s attempts to rope him into a more domestic arrangement with a woman he definitely does not love. Will Spade, after seeing the possibility of love and facing death, follow in Flitcraft’s footsteps and fall into a kind of blind domesticity?
Themes
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
Love and Sex  Theme Icon