The Maltese Falcon Metaphors and Similes

The Maltese Falcon Metaphors and Similes

“He looked rather pleasantly like a blond Satan.”

This is the concluding line in the opening paragraph of the book describing Sam Spade. Clearly, alterations were made for the famous film adaptation. The simile here works to lay the foundation for the fact that Spade has a rather complex personal philosophy toward morality. Pleasant, but severe in his judgment.

The Maltese Falcon

The Falcon itself is a multi-layered metaphor for desire. The lies surrounding even possibly its very existence extend its metaphorical value to Brigid’s tapestry of deception. The description of its being encrusted with jewels and gold lend it a metaphorical value as the object of greed. The fact that the falcon finally found is worthless and casually tossed aside in order to set off in search of the real thing is a metaphor for obsession. Even Spade is represented here: he is just as curious to see what is in the bundle as those who have been following it across the globe for years.


The Maltese Falcon is richly concerned with themes related to masculinity. In the case of guns, the story breaks with tradition in which weapons are metaphorical extensions of manhood; figuratively, a symbolic penis. Spade notably does not carry gun and just as notably he easily disarms Joel Cairo and Wilmer. The metaphor here could not be more starkly defined as both men are clearly delineated in negative terms a homophobia. When the man so assured of his masculinity that he does not need a symbolic penis effortlessly relieves the two homosexuals of their, he is metaphorically castrating them of a penis they won’t be needing anyway. At least, not in Spade’s worldview.

The Torn Newspaper

When Spade through Cairo’s belonging in his empty hotel room, he spots a newspaper in the trash. About two inches of column has been cut out of the paper, leaving only an empty hole where the pertinent information he’s looking for would be. This hole becomes a metaphor for the multiple bits of information that are missing from the story he is trying to piece together to get to the bottom of this crazy case.

“He made a fist of one small hand and struck Cairo’s mouth with it. Cairo cried out as a woman might have cried”

The comparison of the effeminate Cairo to a woman after Spade hits him is only to be expected in light of the book’s obsession with masculinity. What is fascinating about this simile is that the connection is made literal rather than figurative. Cairo is very explicitly situated as lacking masculinity here. Despite this, Spade treats Cairo far more seriously than he does the gunsel. Wilmer poses no threat at all to Spade and his attitude is one of completely dismissal. Even though he viewed Cairo as womanly, he still takes him seriously as a potential threat to his life, thus suggesting there are levels to his construction of masculinity.

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