Brief Biography of Dashiell Hammett
Raised in Philadelphia and Baltimore, Dashiell Hammett left school at the age of fourteen and held several jobs before becoming an operative for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in 1915. After serving as a sergeant in WWI and returning to the Pinkerton’s for a while after that, he began his career as a writer. His first story was published in 1922, and in the twelve years that followed he wrote numerous novels, screenplays, and short stories, and in many ways his writing, with its hard-boiled authenticity, established the genre of the noir detective novel. He ceased writing after 1934 and focused instead on political activism. A determined anti-fascist, he was a member of the Communist Party USA and, after pulling strings to serve again in WWII (despite the injuries he incurred fighting in the first World War), he refused to provide the U.S. courts information about other Communist party members that could have led to their arrest or harassment. For refusing, he was sentenced to five months in a federal prison. Unpopular with the American public because of his controversial political views, Hammett spent the last ten years of his life as a recluse living in his country house. In 1961 he died of lung cancer.
Historical Context of The Maltese Falcon
Hammett began writing The Maltese Falcon after serving in World War I. After the war, many Americans felt that the government and traditional authorities failed the American people by engaging in an unnecessary war. Therefore, it is unsurprising that Hammett critiques all levels of authority by revealing their incompetency and possible corruption. Also significant for the novel is the period of economic prosperity known as The Roaring Twenties. Taking place in 1929, this novel occurs at the end of the period so the novel’s critique of greed perhaps reveals Hammett’s suspicion of the opulence and excessive wealth that marked the decade.
Other Books Related to The Maltese Falcon
Along with The Maltese Falcon
, Hammett’s The Glass Key
marked the beginning of a literary golden age of crime fiction. These works helped establish the form, style, and character types that would endure through decades of detective novels. One of the most famous detective novels to come out of this period was Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep
, a novel directly influenced by Hammett’s fiction. Building off of Hammett’s novels, Chandler would cement the conventions of the genre, including the cynical detective battling police incompetency, corruption, and mob activity as well as the femme fatale leading the protagonist to his demise (or at least close to it).
Key Facts about The Maltese Falcon
Full Title: The Maltese Falcon
When Written: Late 1920s
Where Written: U.S.
When Published: 1929
Genre: Crime fiction
Setting: San Francisco during the late nineteen-twenties
Climax: Spade’s showdown with the criminals in his apartment
Antagonist: Joel Cairo, Casper Gutman, and Wilmer Cook
Point of View: Third-person objective
Extra Credit for The Maltese Falcon