The Maltese Falcon

Illusions of Truth

The Maltese Falcon at its core is a novel about people making up stories. Characters in the novel display a remarkable ability and willingness to lie. As each new character is introduced to the plot, a new host of lies is introduced as well. The novel is also characterized by an objective style. Dashiell Hammett maintains a third-person point of view that provides no insights into characters’ thoughts or motivations. This interplay between a plot centered on lies and an objective style centered on a lack of insight into these lies constructs narrative desire in The Maltese Falcon.

Narrative desire is the paradoxical desire of the reader to get to the solution of a story while simultaneously wishing to prolong the suspense of the story for as long as possible. In the beginning of The Maltese Falcon, Hammett firmly centers his plot on lies. Hammett introduces the reader to Sam Spade and Ms. Wonderly. Both initially appear as stereotypical characters in a detective novel: Spade as a compassionate private eye who patiently listens to his client’s story and Ms. Wonderly as a tentative, passive woman in duress who needs a man to save her. However, Hammett immediately turns this characterization on its head. Within two chapters,...

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