The Maltese Falcon

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Brigid O’Shaughnessy Character Analysis

First introducing herself under a false backstory as Miss Wonderly, Brigid O’Shaughnessy employs Sam Spade for protection against the criminal Casper Gutman. She is the novel’s master liar, tricking men and women alike into thinking that she is on their side. In the past, she used her attractiveness to convince Floyd Thursby to help her steal the Maltese falcon. Throughout the novel, she pretends to be helpless, but Spade is never truly convinced by her deceitful performance. Consumed by greed, Brigid kills Miles Archer in order to frame Thursby so that she would not have to share with him the profits from selling the falcon. By the end of the novel, she claims to love Sam Spade, though it is not entirely clear how true this is and how much she just wants to avoid going to jail. Most likely the answer is some of both. Ultimately, greed and deceit lead to her imprisonment.

Brigid O’Shaughnessy Quotes in The Maltese Falcon

The The Maltese Falcon quotes below are all either spoken by Brigid O’Shaughnessy or refer to Brigid O’Shaughnessy. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Maltese Falcon published in 1992.
Chapter 7 Quotes

“His second wife didn’t look like the first, but they were more alike than they were different. You know, the kind of women that play fair games of golf and bridge and like new salad-recipes…I don’t think he even knew he settled back naturally into the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma.”

Related Characters: Sam Spade (speaker), Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Flitcraft
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important passage, Spade tells Brigid, soon to be his lover, a story about a case he investigated a few years ago. Spade tracked down a man named Flitcraft who, after a brush with death, suddenly left his wife and family and moved far away, hoping to change his life and savor it more. Spade discovered, however, that Flitcraft had soon taken up a new job, wife, and family--and moreover, his new wife looked a little like his first. The irony of the story is that Flitcraft ran away from his old life, only to start up another life that was almost exactly the same.

Spade's story emphasizes the idea of fate or a person's inherent "nature." Flitcraft forcefully tried to change himself, but he soon returned to his old ways. Similarly, Spade will later suggest that Brigid will always be deceitful, no matter how hard she tries to be honest, and no matter how much she may love Spade. The story of Flitcraft also shows how most people deal with their own mortality--they try to ignore it. Flitcraft decided to savor life after nearly being struck by a steel beam. But after only a few months, Flitcraft stopped thinking about death and "settled down" once again.

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“He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”

Related Characters: Sam Spade (speaker), Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Flitcraft
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

Spade continues telling Brigid the story of Flitcraft, the strange man whom he tracked down a few years ago. Flitcraft chose to run away from his wife for one simple reason: he nearly died. While walking by a construction site, Flitcraft was nearly killed by a falling steel beam: the experience scarred him, reminding him that his life was short and fragile.

The story tells us a lot about Spade's code of right and wrong--a code that, we sense, is rooted in an acknowledgment of death. Spade is surrounded by death and danger at all times--yet, like Flitcraft, he finds a way to "adjust" himself to the danger and survive. Spade accepts the presence of death in his life, and proceeds normally. Flitcraft couldn't handle this acceptance for long, however, and so he soon slipped back into his old complacency, assuming that death was far away and unreal.

Chapter 9 Quotes

“Oh, I’m so tired,” she said tremulously, “so tired of it all, of myself, of lying and thinking up lies, and not knowing what is a lie and what is the truth.”

Related Characters: Brigid O’Shaughnessy (speaker), Sam Spade
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

Sam Spade is starting to figure out the truth about Brigid. Brigid has been involved in tracking down a mysterious falcon statue that's worth a lot of money, and she's traveled to Constantinople to do so. Spade asks Brigid probing questions. In the middle of the questioning, Brigid feigns weariness and tries to seduce Spade--with great success.

We can't take anything Brigid says in the passage seriously. While it's true that she's been telling lies, she's perfectly in control of what she says (at this point at least). Brigid is only pretending to be tired and confused in order to distract Spade from figuring out the truth--in other words, she uses her sexuality to distract Spade, acting like a classic femme fatale.

Chapter 16 Quotes

“Sam Spade,” she said, “you’re the most contemptible man God ever made when you want to be. Because she did something without confiding in you you’d sit here and do nothing when you know she’s in danger.”

Related Characters: Effie Perine (speaker), Sam Spade, Brigid O’Shaughnessy
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see Effie acting as Sam Spade's conscience (and flirtatious mother/sister figure). Effie knows that Sam Spade has just had a meal with Polhaus and also met with the District Attorney. Spade, back in his office, tells Effie that Brigid may have been on the ship La Poloma when it caught on fire the previous night. Spade is calm and laid-back as he gives Effie this information: Effie is disgusted that Spade can seem so indifferent. Spade shows no signs of wanting to look for Brigid to make sure she's okay.

Why is Spade so indifferent to Brigid's dangerous situation? Effie suggests that Spade doesn't like the fact that Brigid went off and did something on her own--in other words, Spade doesn't like it when women keep him out of the loop. Effie is an interesting character--it's possible to interpret her as the only positive female character in the novel, a reminder that Hammett doesn't always conflate evil and effeminacy (although she's also presented as the most masculine female character). Of course, it's also possible to interpret Effie's statements as wrong and distracting: Effie wants Sam to give Brigid "some space," when--we later learn--Brigid is actually the villain, and has been plotting against Spade for some time.

Chapter 20 Quotes

He was pale. He said tenderly, “I hope to Christ they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck.” He slid his hands up to caress her throat… “You’ll be out again in twenty years. You’re an angel. I’ll wait for you.” He cleared his throat. “If they hang you I’ll always remember you.”

Related Characters: Sam Spade (speaker), Brigid O’Shaughnessy
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Spade discovers the truth: he knows that Brigid was the one who murdered his partner, Miles Archer. The passage is important because it shows Spade in the midst of a genuine moral crisis. One one hand, Spade doesn't want to send Brigid to jail for the murder--he seems to care about her deeply. And yet Spade also acknowledges the truth: she's guilty, and there's a possibility that the jury will sentence her to be hanged.

The passage shows Spade at his most callous. He's capable of feelings for Brigid, but he also recognizes that she's a murderous, devious woman. As a result, he decides to punish her for killing his partner--upholding his own moral code, but also acting especially callous and sexist, caressing Brigid like a beautiful object even as he cynically contemplates her potential death.

“When a man’s partner is killed he’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it”

Related Characters: Sam Spade (speaker), Brigid O’Shaughnessy
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Hammett gives us a clear sense of Spade's moral code. Spade knows that Brigid was the one who murdered his partner, Miles Archer. Although Spade didn't particularly like his partner at all, he knows that the "right thing" is to avenge his partner's death. There's a strong code of cooperation and mutual respect in Spade's work, and Spade obeys this code at all times, even if it leads him to work with people like Archer, whom he doesn't like at all (and whose wife is sleeping with him).

The passage is fascinating because it shows that, in the end, Spade is more loyal to a man he hates than a women he cares about. The code of right and wrong that Spade obeys is, at the most basic level, a masculine code: Spade gives men a form of respect and trust that he would never give to women. The passage could be interpreted as the clearest expression of the novel's sexism: real men are rugged and honorable, while women are devious and emotional.

“I’m a detective and expecting me to run criminals down and then let them go free is like asking a dog to catch a rabbit and let it go. It can be done, all right, and sometimes it is done, but it’s not the natural thing.”

Related Characters: Sam Spade (speaker), Brigid O’Shaughnessy
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Spade continues to give his reasons for turning Brigid in to the police. Spade's explanation is curious because it makes him look weak and powerless--just a pawn in a vast "natural order of things." Spade explains that it's the natural order for a detective to turn someone in to the police: when there's a crime, somebody has to go to jail. Spade's reliance on such an order leads him to send Brigid to prison--in spite of his feelings for Brigid, somebody has to be punished for murder.

Spade exemplifies an independent, macho way of looking at the world: he "is what he is," and refuses to change for anyone or anything. Spade could conceivably let Brigid go free and start a new life somewhere with her, but he's too loyal to his own sense of law and order.

“Would you have done this to me if the falcon had been real and you had been paid your money?”
“What difference does that make now? Don’t be too sure I’m as crooked as I’m supposed to be. That kind of reputation might be good business – bringing in high-priced jobs and making it easier to deal with the enemy.”

Related Characters: Sam Spade (speaker), Brigid O’Shaughnessy (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Maltese Falcon
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

Brigid angrily asks Spade to tell her the truth: would he have turned her in to the police if the Maltese Falcon had been real? Brigid is implying that Spade wouldn't have been so focused on "doing the right thing" if he'd suddenly been made rich.

It's hard to deny that Brigid has a point. We've already seen that Spade is willing to sacrifice his values when he gets his hands on something valuable--remember the scene in which he stands on Jacobi's dead body because he thinks he has the falcon (a great metaphor for the way money corrupts).

And yet Spade insists that he is a just man: he just pretends to be devious and corrupt in order to attract the right clients and make friends with the right people (as he sarcastically and rather cruelly says here). In his mind, Spade is a good man: he just pretends to be corrupt because it's useful to his business, but in reality he's always thinking about doing the moral thing. Again, Hammett doesn't tell us whether we're supposed to believe Spade or not. Spade claims he knows how to keep good and evil separate--but perhaps in the course of his work, he's begun to confuse the two.

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Brigid O’Shaughnessy Character Timeline in The Maltese Falcon

The timeline below shows where the character Brigid O’Shaughnessy appears in The Maltese Falcon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4: The Black Bird
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
Masculinity, Femininity, and Sexuality  Theme Icon
...him, not because he believed her story. After she confesses that her real name is Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Spade tells her he will help protect her identity from the police as long... (full context)
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Instead of telling him the info, Brigid gets on her knees and pleads for help. Spade comments she’s trying to deceive him... (full context)
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
Masculinity, Femininity, and Sexuality  Theme Icon
When Spade returns to the office, Effie warns him that if he takes advantage of Brigid, she will lose all respect for him. Their conversation is interrupted by a stranger at... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Undersized Shadow
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...enters an apartment building, goes out the back entrance, and walks another few blocks to Brigid’s hotel. (full context)
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Greed Theme Icon
Masculinity, Femininity, and Sexuality  Theme Icon
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In Brigid’s room, Spade tells her that he’s decided to protect her identity from the police. With... (full context)
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...his apartment building, Spade notices Iva Archer waiting in a car out front. He ushers Brigid into the lobby before returning to talk to Iva at her car. On the verge... (full context)
Chapter 7: G in the Air
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At Spade’s home, he and Brigid call the front desk at Cairo’s hotel, but the manager informs them that Cairo hasn’t... (full context)
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Perhaps feeling that Spade is confiding in her, Brigid responds to the story by claiming she has complete trust in how he will handle... (full context)
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Cairo then offends Brigid by making reference to a relationship between her and a young man in Constantinople. In... (full context)
Chapter 8: Horse Feathers
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Cairo, a gash over his eye, stands with a gun over Brigid as she huddles, terrified, in the chair. Brigid claims he struck her first, but Cairo... (full context)
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
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Cairo and Brigid confirm that it was all a practical joke. Spade tells the police that if they... (full context)
Chapter 9: Brigid
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Alone with Brigid in the apartment, Spade lets his contempt for Dundy show, cursing nonstop for five minutes.... (full context)
Chapter 10: The Belvedere Divan
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The next morning, Spade wakes up beside Brigid, who is naked and fast asleep. Rummaging through her clothes, Spade finds the key to... (full context)
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
...waiting in the lobby. Realizing the young man probably works for the Mr. G that Brigid made reference to, Spade confronts the young man about his employer. The young man pretends... (full context)
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
...think he’s still working for him, Spade tells Cairo he only slapped him so that Brigid would trust him and help him find the bird. Implying he doesn’t fully trust Spade,... (full context)
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Love and Sex  Theme Icon
...Mr. G. called and wants to speak to him. When Spade enters his private office, Brigid is there waiting. She tells Spade her room was searched and that she wants to... (full context)
Chapter 11: The Fat Man
...She explains that she called the police because she was jealous of seeing Spade with Brigid. She tells Spade she only came to his apartment to warn him that Phil Archer,... (full context)
Chapter 12: Merry-go-Round
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Masculinity, Femininity, and Sexuality  Theme Icon
...at back at his office and finds Effie waiting for him. She tells Spade that Brigid never showed up at her home so she came back to the office to find... (full context)
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After finding nothing of use in the paper, Spade lets himself into Brigid’s hotel room with the key she gave him but he finds nothing there either. When... (full context)
Chapter 14: La Paloma
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...ship La Paloma had arrived in San Francisco from Hong Kong yesterday morning. Remembering that Brigid said she met Thursby in Hong Kong, Spade realizes that Brigid must have seen the... (full context)
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
Love and Sex  Theme Icon
...on fire. Realizing that fire must mean that La Paloma has something to do with Brigid and the bird, Spade smiles at her knowingly. (full context)
Chapter 16: The Third Murder
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
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At the office, Effie strokes Spade’s head as he tells her that Brigid may have been around La Paloma when it caught fire. Effie pulls away, disgusted that... (full context)
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...Effie tells him that Luke called about Cairo, and then she asks if he found Brigid. He kisses Effie on the nose and tells her he’ll let her know about everything... (full context)
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
...crewmen from the La Paloma. From the interviews, Spade was able to piece together that Brigid, Gutman, Cairo, Wilmer, and Captain Jacobi of the La Paloma had all met onboard the... (full context)
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
Fate and Death Theme Icon
Love and Sex  Theme Icon
...the dead man’s hand. As he revels in his triumph, Effie gets a call from Brigid who is at Gutman’s hotel and claims to be danger. (full context)
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...the falcon and the relationship between this man, who he believes is Captain Jacobi, and Brigid. Before leaving with the falcon under his arm, he affectionately rubs her cheek and says... (full context)
Chapter 17: Saturday Night
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Masculinity, Femininity, and Sexuality  Theme Icon
...pin. In garbled half-phrases, she manages to say that Gutman, Cairo, and Wilmer have taken Brigid to an address in Burlingame, a town twenty miles from San Francisco, with plans to... (full context)
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Spade returns home and, as he puts his key into the door, Brigid rushes towards him, embraces him, and explains she’s been hiding in wait until he came... (full context)
Chapter 18: The Fall-Guy
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Greed Theme Icon
Spade and Brigid enter the room and sit on the couch across from Gutman. Cairo and Wilmer lower... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 19: The Russian’s Hand
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Gutman explains that Wilmer killed Thursby so that Brigid would fear that she was next and would give Gutman the falcon. During their meeting... (full context)
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Satisfied with the info, Spade asks Brigid to make them some coffee. During the struggle with Wilmer, Gutman had noticed Brigid pick... (full context)
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...the money, Gutman claims that one of the one-thousand dollar bills is missing and accuses Brigid of stealing it. Although she denies his accusation, Spade takes her to the bathroom and... (full context)
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Brigid goes into the kitchen to prepare food and coffee as Spade confronts Gutman, claiming that... (full context)
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...lead instead of gold. Realizing it’s a fake, Gutman shouts in rage and Spade accuses Brigid of tricking them, but she and Cairo both claim that this statue was the same... (full context)
Chapter 20: If They Hang You
Lies and Deceptions  Theme Icon
Authority, Justice, and a Code of Ethics Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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Spade infers that Brigid wanted to get Thursby out of the way so she could keep the profits from... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Thinking he will still help her, Brigid confesses to the crime. Spade, however, tells her that she’ll probably be sentenced to twenty... (full context)
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Greed Theme Icon
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Brigid asks if the falcon had been real and he got his money, would he still... (full context)
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...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... (full context)