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Written by Timothy Sexton
The Falcon Statue
In the 1941 film adaptation, Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade refers to the statue of the bird as stuff dreams are made of. It is an appropriate symbolic analogy as the statue of the falcon is invested with the wealth that can make dreams come true by its pursuers only to be revealed as a bunch of heavy lead to be logged around that is capable of causing a big hurt rather than a big life filled with riches. The falcon as a bird actually holds little symbolic importance—it could just as easily have been the Maltese penguin or the Maltese Ostrich—but in terms of the falcon as a statue, its symbolism as resonates within any object into which people out their effort to follow a dream.
In an interest turn of events, the standard symbolism of the gun is turned on its unrealistic head and invested with a more primal sense of realism by becoming not the wish-fulfillment symbol of enhanced masculinity, but the more down to earth symbolism of revealing how the need for a gun indicates an actual lack of masculinity. Indeed, the characters inhabiting The Maltese Falcon undermine every fantasy of every male gun-owner by revealing that the bigger the gun, the more lacking in traditional masculinity you likely are. Sam Spade finds little need to reach for his pistol when dealing with the distinctly effeminate bad guys wanting to get their hands on the falcon. From the coded homosexual Joel Cairo to Guttman's jewel-encrusted weapon to the absolute lack of ability of the gunsel to fulfill his duties, the reliance on guns is pretty much restricted to the least manly characters in the novel.
Flitcraft is a client of Spade who pops up in a story told by Sam to Bridget. The story has no relevance to the plot and Flitcraft is never mentioned again, so in way he is the most clearly symbolic figure in the novel. The story has to do with Flitcraft abandoning his wife, family and lifestyle one day after nearly being killed by a falling beam at a construction site. Spade doesn’t see or hear from the man for five years at which time he learns that the guy is essentially living the exactly same life he turned his back on except with a different wife and family that look almost exactly like the one he left behind. Like the falcon statue, this little story is symbolic of chasing after dreams. And just like the Flitcraft who is essentially living the very same life he led before he went off in search of a dream, those still left to continue chasing after the real Maltese falcon will find themselves repeating the same thing over and over and over again. The symbolism of Flitcraft is linked very definitely to the symbolism of the falcon as it relates to the unlikely potential for changing one’s ways.
The names of the characters in the novel are investment with a level of symbolism. Sam Spade’s job is to dig for clues. Caspar Guttman is not just physically fat, he is excessively bloated with greed and gluttony. Meanwhile, the various names and identities put forward by Brigid is highly symbolic of the unsteady and uncertain nature of her characters and trustworthiness.
The Maltese Falcon is unusual for a hardboiled private detective novel from the 1930s in that not only is it not written in the first person, its third-person POV isn’t even told through Sam Spade’s perspective. For this reason, much of the information that the reader is given comes in the form of dialogue and much of that dialogue is in the form of telephone conversations. As a result, the telephone takes on a mythic status as not just the instrument of transmission of information, but a necessary component in the construction of information. The phone becomes a symbol of how progress and the innovation of machinery has changed the very playing ground for how crimes can get solved.
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