The Maltese Falcon By Dashiell Hammett

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Dashiell Hammett’s novel, The Maltese Falcon, is a hard-boiled detective novel; a subset of the mystery genre. Before the appearance of this sub-genre, mystery novels were mainly dominated by unrealistic cases and detectives like Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. As Malmgren states, “The murders in these stories are implausibly motivated, the plots completely artificial, and the characters pathetically two-dimensional, puppets and cardboard lovers, and paper mache villains and detectives of exquisite and impossible gentility.” (Malmgren, 371) On the other hand, Hammett tried to write realistic mystery fiction – the “hard-boiled” genre. In the Maltese Falcon, Hammett uses language, symbolism, and characterization to bring the story closer to reality.

The Maltese Falcon is written in a casual tone filled with colloquialisms in a clipped laconic style from an objective point of view. In the novel, Hammett used a lot of slang that are specific to one social group: the underworld criminals, and the police & detectives who dealt with them. For example, when Spade is being accused by the police for killing his partner, Miles Archer, he said:

You oughtn’t try to pin more than one murder at a time on me. Your first idea that I knocked Thursby [a character who is murdered near the beginning of the novel] off because he killed Miles falls apart if you blame me for killing Miles, too […] But suppose I did, you could’ve blipped ‘em both. (Hammett, 451)

Words such as pin (accused), knock off (kill) and blip (kill) are widely known slang terms at the time, so incorporating them into speeches makes the characters more rough and realistic. Hammett uses a clipped, laconic style which speeds the action along, controls emotion and limits clear acce...

... middle of paper ... one of the US’s largest professional detective agency, he is able to bring an aura of realism with a bit of pessimism into his stories. For The Maltese Falcon, such realism is achieved using language from that social group in a style which brings an almost real feeling of action to the reader; symbolism of characters to actual events; and characterizing characters with real life human qualities. As a result, some say, “Dashiell Hammett is the person who rescued the [mystery] genre by bringing it back to the real world” (Malmgren, 371)

Works Cited:

Abrahams, Pual P. “On re-reading the Maltese Falcon”

Journal pf American Culture (Bowling Green) 18.1 (1995): 97

Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon. New York: Vintage Books, 1930

Malmgren, Carl D. “The Crime of the Sign: Dashiell Hammett’s Detective Fiction”

Twentieth Century Literature 45.3 (1990): 371
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