In a lot of symbolism, the size of a man’s gun is proportional with his masculinity. The bigger the gun, the more masculine the man. However, this novel uses guns as a symbol for a lack of masculinity. For example, Wilmer Cook, who is described as young, fair-skinned, and possibly gay, carries two large pistols. In the novel, Wilmer’s guns represent his attempt to compensate for his physical slightness, youth, and sexual orientation. It is important to note that this novel describes homosexuality as an unnatural and effeminate perversion, rightly leading many critics to criticize the novel for homophobic and discriminatory depictions of gay men. In contrast to Wilmer, Sam Spade does not carry a gun, suggesting that his masculinity is so apparent that he requires no outward symbol to confirm, display, or defend it.
In an extension of this theme, Casper Gutman’s gold and jewel-encrusted pistol is s symbol of his effeminacy as well as the fusion of greed and violence. In the novel, jewelry is linked with effeminacy and homosexuality. For example, Joel Cairo’s ruby-studded tie and diamond rings are meant to display his effeminacy and his identity as a gay man. Therefore, Gutman’s jeweled gun is a symbol of his effeminacy and possible sexual orientation. Since Gutman’s gun, an instrument of violence, is a marker of excessive wealth, the novel suggests that greed and violence are counterparts to one another, each leading to the other.