In The Maltese Falcon, love fails to overcome the grim realities of deception and greed. For example, Casper Gutman’s greed makes him betray Wilmer Cook despite Gutman’s supposed paternal love and possible sexual attraction towards him. While it’s unclear what Gutman’s true feelings were for Wilmer, Brigid O’Shaughnessy uses sex and affection as a kind of currency to get men to do what she wants. Although by the end of the novel Brigid may have truly fallen in love with Samuel Spade, he realizes that he cannot trust her love because her emotions are wrapped in lies and deceptions. The novel also provides no model for a good marriage, since Iva Archer cheats on her husband, Miles Archer, and Flitcraft leaves his family with no warning.
For Spade, romantic love appears to be an unattainable ideal since his mistrustfulness prevents him from ever fully believing the inner and unknowable feelings of another person. As a result, Spade is not willing to risk breaking his code of ethics for something as insubstantial as love. Likewise, Spade tells Effie Perine he only knows how to interact with women through sex. Spade’s inability to trust makes sex the only option for expressing affection or desire for a woman. Spade even implies that sex, rather than deep affection or trust, is the only thing that sustains his relationship with Iva. The last scene of the novel, therefore, ends with Spade having to decide if he will continue his loveless relationship with Iva by marrying her as she desires. Yet what Spade does not realize is that he already has a profound emotional attachment with Effie, which reveals that Spade can, at the very least, know a kind of familial and nonsexual love for others.
Love and Sex ThemeTracker
Love and Sex 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.
“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.”
“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.”
“Well, Wilmer, I’m sorry indeed to lose you, and I want you to know that I couldn’t be any fonder of you if you were my own son; but – well, by Gad! – if you lose a son it’s possible to get another – and there’s only one Maltese falcon.”
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.”
“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.”
She escaped from his arm as if it had hurt her. “Don’t, please, don’t touch me,” she said brokenly. “I know – I know you’re right. You’re right. But don’t touch me now – not now.” Spade’s face became pale as his collar.