While most characters don’t respond with much emotion to the deaths that occur around them, Samuel Spade’s story about Flitcraft reveals the importance of how people cope with mortality. Spade tells Brigid O’Shaughnessy about a former case of his in which a man named Flitcraft realizes how death can strike at any moment. After having this realization, Flitcraft leaves his family and wanders aimlessly around the United States before settling down with a new wife who resembles the one he left. Spade says that Flitcraft abandoned his realization about the random inevitability of death so that he could go back to living a life like his old one. For Spade, this story reveals how most people try to forget about death in order to go on living their ordinary lives.
Spade, however, copes with mortality by trying to stay in control of every facet of his life rather than by simply ignoring the reality of death. Yet, death is something that no one can ultimately predict, avoid, or control. Thus, his desire to stay in control can be understood as a way of coping with his lack of control over death. Likewise, Spade’s last name refers to both the instrument used to dig graves as well as a suit of cards, which connects the theme of death with that of the randomness suggested by the cards.
Although Flitcraft had a brief moment of realization about death, the fact that his new life resembles his old in all the significant ways illustrates how a person cannot escape their natural inclinations or “fate.” Spade tells Brigid this story in order to indirectly explain that he knows she will not be able to change her deceitful ways, because deception is in her nature. Spade also comes to a similar realization about himself when he tells Brigid it would be against his nature to let her go free once he’s finally obtained the evidence that proves her guilt.
Fate and Death ThemeTracker
Fate and Death Quotes in The Maltese Falcon
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”