Most of the characters in The Maltese Falcon represent a different perspective on what it means to be a man or woman. For example, Samuel Spade represents the epitome of manliness. Multiple women desire him, no man is a challenge for him in a fight, and his tough exterior and unwavering sense of honor exemplify a certain type of masculinity. The novel idealizes his masculinity, essentially without criticism, even appearing to value his emotional detachment from the people around him.
Hammet’s construction of masculinity within the novel contrasts with how he represents gay characters. The various descriptions of Joel Cairo as effeminate imply that feminine characteristics in men are somehow both unnatural and inherently immoral. When Spade wants to insult Cairo and Wilmer Cook, he alludes to their sexual orientation in an attempt to emasculate them. While Spade has a rough and frank manner of speaking, Casper Gutman speaks in a refined way, making him seem more effeminate.
Whereas Spade is a clear and singular representative of manliness, the novel’s three women represent different perspectives on femininity. Brigid O’Shaughnessy appears to be Spade’s feminine counterpart since she is his equal match in cunning and sexual allure, but she differs from Spade in her lack of morals and honor. She is the stereotypical “femme fatale,” a sexist depiction of a woman who seduces men with deceit and causes their downfall. Although men like Gutman and Cairo are also disloyal, they lack Spade's manly traits, making disloyalty seem like only a feminine trait. Like Brigid, Iva Archer appears disloyal by cheating on her husband and lying to Spade about her actions. However, unlike Brigid, she lacks cunning or resourcefulness and makes her decisions based on emotions like love and jealousy rather than honor or greed. Finally, Effie Perine’s physical appearance makes her appear masculine. Since the novel links femininity with deceit, it is unsurprising that a woman portrayed as masculine is the most trustworthy woman in the book. Effie's femininity is complicated by the supportive role she takes on with Spade, whom she nurtures as a mother would. Interacting with her as if she were family, Spade does not see her as a possible romantic partner even though she is the most trustworthy and ethically-minded woman in the novel.
Masculinity, Femininity, and Sexuality ThemeTracker
Masculinity, Femininity, and Sexuality Quotes in The Maltese Falcon
Her thin fingers finished shaping the cigarette. She licked it, smoothed it, twisted its ends, and placed it between Spade’s lips. He said, “Thanks, honey,” put an arm around her slim waist, and rested his cheek wearily against her hip, shutting his eyes.
Diamonds twinkled on the second and fourth fingers of his left hand, a ruby that matched the one in his tie even to the surrounding diamonds on the third finger of his right hand. His hands were soft and well cared for. Though they were not large their flaccid bluntness made them seem clumsy.
“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.”
“And when you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it.” He released Cairo’s wrist and with a thick open hand struck the side of his face three times, savagely.
“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.”
“Well, sir, here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding.”
“Keep that grunsel away from me while you’re making up your mind. I’ll kill him. I don’t like him. He makes me nervous. I’ll kill him the first time he gets in my way. I won’t give him an even break. I won’t give him a chance. I’ll kill him.”
“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.”
He stepped back holding it up in front of him and blew dust off it, regarding it triumphantly. Effie Perine made a horrified face and screamed, pointing at his feet. He looked down at his feet. His last backward step had brought his left heel into contact with the dead man’s hand, pinching a quarter-inch of flesh at a side of the palm between the heel and the floor. Spade jerked his foot away from the hand.
He took his hand from his chin and rubbed her cheek. “You’re a damned good man, sister,” he said and went out.
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.”
“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”
“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.”