NEA Big Read
The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon

by Dashiell Hammett

I’m one of the few—if there are any more—people moderately literate who take the detective story seriously.

  1. The Maltese Falcon centers on detective Sam Spade, a character almost as elusive as the falcon itself. What aspects of his personality remain mysterious? Which of his choices retain their ambiguity?
  2. Why does Sam Spade take the case, even though he suspects that "Miss Wonderly" is lying?
  3. What kind of vision does The Maltese Falcon present of urban America? How important is San Francisco as the novel's setting?
  4. The reader discovers some parts of the mystery at the same time as the detective, and other parts much later. At what point did you solve the crime?
  5. Is Sam Spade a hero? How would you describe his personal moral code in a violent world?
  6. Why might Hammett avoid describing any of the novel's murders in detail?
  7. What do the novel's three women—Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Effie Perine, and Iva Archer—have in common? How different are their personalities and motivations?
  8. In the 1930s and '40s mostly male writers adapted the femme fatale-a foxy, dangerous woman-to crime stories. How might a woman have written Brigid differently?
  9. What motivates Sam Spade to find the falcon? Is he tempted by money or Brigid, or does he merely love the chase?
  10. Does any character change or grow in The Maltese Falcon?
  11. Are Sam Spade's actions in the novel's final scene consistent with his character? What would you have done in his place?
  12. Although the reader is never privy to the thoughts of Hammett's characters, what might the falcon symbolize to each of them based on their actions?

"Simplicity and clarity ... are the most elusive and difficult of literary accomplishments, and a high degree of skill is necessary to any writer who would win them. They are the most important qualities in securing the maximum desired effect on the reader."
-Dashiell Hammett, 1926

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