The Maltese Falcon

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Private Detective Sam Spade and his partner, Miles Archer, are hired by the beautiful Miss Wonderly to track down her sister’s brutish boyfriend, Floyd Thursby. Spade is dubious, but the pair take the case, and when both Archer and Thursby wind up in body bags within twenty-four hours, Spade realizes that there is far more to this case than Wonderly had let on.

Sam Spade has long been considered the definitive example of a hard-boiled detective, and author Daishell Hammett effectively established the hard-boiled crime genre through his stories about detectives like Sam Spade and the hard-nosed Continental Op. "The Maltese Falcon" has been adapted several times, most famously in the 1941 film starring Humphrey Bogart in the role of Sam Spade.

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Curriculet Details
35 Questions
45 Annotations
3 Quizzes

In this 9th grade digital curriculum, annotations include clips from a cinematic version of The Maltese Falcon, questions that examine the author's purpose and style, and explanations of literary devices, such as symbolism and motifs. Interactive videos support engagement and cover subjects such as character development and the emergence and development of themes. The Common Core aligned questions and answers address the relationship between themes and character development, as well as questions that analyze the similarities and differences between the text and the movie version of the book. The themes of illusion and truth, masculinity and femininity, and the consequences of greed are explored in this curriculet. Our free online unit will increase student engagement with rich media annotations while supporting reading comprehension.

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Chapter 1 - Spade & Archer

Did you know this curriculet has a built-in "Define" tool? To use this tool, click (tap on a tablet) the word you wish to define, and select the "Define" tool. Try this tool with the word "tentative" in the text.  
Hammett's description of Samuel Spade MOST highlights his  
Dashiell Hammett's detective novel, The Maltese Falcon, was so popular during its time, that it was made into a movie in the early 1940s. Watch the preview below of the trailer for this movie. We will look at particular scenes and study connections and discrepancies between the novel and the film.  (This annotation contains a video)
What does Miles Archer's gesture (in the highlighted phrase) MOST likely mean?  
Throughout this novel you will meet several characters. These characters will change--sometimes predictably, and at other times, not so predictably. We will study how and why they change, and the connections their change has on themes. Watch the video below to learn more about character development. What kind of men do Arthur and Spade show themselves to be?  (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter 2 - Death in the Fog

This detail lets us know that the story takes place in San Francisco, near Alcatraz Prison (shown below)--the most notorious prison island in America in the 1940s. What kind of mood does this detail and the mysterious, death-related plot help create? (This annotation contains an image)
Hammett delays stating who is killed until this scene. What effect is this decision MOST likely meant to have? 
Pay attention to the details Hammett gives us regarding Spade's response to his partner's death. How do you think Spade responds? Why does he respond this way, and what does this tell you about him? 
What effect does the dialogue in this scene create?  
This story fits into the detective genre (similar to a modern-day TV show, such as CSI or Bones), and the plot will create quite a bit of mystery, tension, and surprise. The purpose of this is to keep you guessing at who did what and why it was done. As you make predictions, remember that in most detective stories, the author keeps the plot resolutions hidden. Look at the poster below that was created for this movie when it was released. How does this poster create a sense of mystery and intrigue? (This annotation contains an image)
What is the MAIN purpose of Lieutenant Dundy's visit?  

Chapter 3 - Three Women

How you figured out the relationship between Iva and Spade? Look for clues in the text to determine how they know each other because the author does not directly say it.  
What does Hammett MOST likely want to reveal about Spade through his interactions with Effie?  
Pay attention to Spade's interaction with other characters, and think about the possible themes his character introduces into the story. We definitely know that he is self-assured, savvy, and independent with his detective work, but what lessons do you think Hammett will try to teach us through a character like this?  

Chapter 4 - The Black Bird

What is MOST obviously different about Miss Wonderly (Brigid O'Shaughnessy) in this chapter when compared to her short appearance in the first chapter? 
The video below is a cinematic depiction of the opening scene in this chapter. It is shot in film noir (black or dark film) style--a popular genre of filming during the mid 20th century that portrays crime dramas with cynical characters who often have twisted underlying sexual motivations. Pay attention to how the characters act and talk, and also notice how the director chooses to shoot this scene (lighting, angles, etc.). Watch it and answer the question that follows.  (This annotation contains a video)
Compare Hammett's portrayal of Brigid in his novel with her performance in the movie clip. What do Hammett and the director of this film both emphasize in their portrayal of her? 
As Hammett develops the complexity of his detective, Sam Spade, we begin to learn of the conflicts that surround his character. These conflicts also connect to major themes in this work. What conflict does Effie mention here, and what theme does this tie into?  

Chapter 5 - The Levantine

The clip below shows a depiction of Cairo and his first encounter with Spade. Notice how the cinematic version of this scene better conveys the complexity of Cairo's character. What do you notice about his demeanor and personality that you didn't visualize when you first read this scene?  (This annotation contains a video)
Based on the highlighted passage, how does Cairo MOST likely perceive Sam Spade's approach to his detective work?  

Chapter 6 - The Undersized Shadow

Spade is a man with many conflicts. He has taken on two clients, and with both his priority is financial and all business--not ethical, so it seems. Do you think he will prove himself to be more about honor than financial gain or reputation? Or is what you see, what you really get with him?  
What does Hammett MOST likely suggest about Spade through the description given to him in this highlighted passage?  
Have you noticed how often Hammett mentions his characters' eyes? Eyes are a popular motif in literature, and have come to symbolize many things, like personality or even a window to the soul. Watch the video below on motifs, and think about how Hammett uses eyes in this story.  (This annotation contains a video)
The introduction of this mysterious "Undersized Shadow" and the connection between Cairo and Brigid are meant to create a certain effect on the readers. Which of the following is Hammett's MOST likely intended effect?  

Chapter 7 - G in the Air

This story is meant to give us a glimpse of how Spade operates. The man in this story represents an existential hero--someone who realizes that his or her existence is all that matters. How does this story help explain the complexity of Spade? In what ways does Spade follow this man's motto of "beams falling"?  
Based on their previous relationship, what does Brigid's "G in the air" MOST likely refer to? 
The following scene depicts the beginning of Chapter 7. Watch this scene. After watching it, think about what motivates Spade to react the way he does to Cairo. Does the film portray him differently than the novel?  (This annotation contains a video)
Part I Quiz 

Chapter 8 - Horse Feathers

Several themes emerge throughout this story (see video below), and many of these themes are tied to the motives and conflicts of the main characters. Masculinity is one of these themes. Joel Cairo carries a "lavender-barred silk handkerchief," and acts differently than Spade does in a world of violence. In what ways do Joel and Spade portray different aspects of masculinity?  (This annotation contains a video)
In all of this interrogating what theme MOST clearly emerges?  
What do you think this expression means? Think about the context of what is going on. It touches upon a central theme in this novel, one that is clearly emerging through this whole situation with the police officers and the trio in the hotel room.  
What do Spade's interactions with the other characters in this chapter BEST reveal? 

Chapter 9 - Brigid

Love and romance are obviously a part of the plot line, but this is not a typical love story. In fact, the way romance and love are approached, Hammett wants to make a powerful statement about deceit, selfishness, and greed. In what ways do you see these vices carried out in the sub-plot about romance? What is unusual about the relationship Spade has with Brigid? 
Hammett makes statements about gender roles in his novel. What do Brigid's interactions with Spade MOST reveal about her femininity?  
Hammett employs several motifs to suggest the ambiguous moral nature of Sam Spade. One, used here, is the yellow color of his eyes. The constant comparison of our protagonist to the Satan (see image below) creates tension because we have to look closely at what he does and says and make up our own minds about who he really is.  (This annotation contains an image)

Chapter 10 - The Belvedere Divan

Let's go back to the theme of love. What's wrong with this picture? Spade and Brigid just took their romance to a new level, and Spade is clandestinely searching her apartment. What statement do you think Hammett is trying to make about love through these two characters? Is love even real to either one of them? Or is it an illusion used to get something from someone? 
How does this boy's interaction with Spade differ from Spade's encounters with other characters?  
For as much as they obviously dislike each other, Spade and Cairo work amicably together. What motivates them to work together in spite of such differences? Is it mutual friendship? Or are their motives more selfish? 
Every woman represents something different in this story. Based on her interaction with Spade, what kind of femininity does Effie MOST represent? 

Chapter 11 - The Fat Man

Think for a moment about why someone would lie. Think about how it benefits him or her to not tell the truth. Each character in this story lies for similar reasons. Why is it so hard for the characters in this story to tell the truth? What thematic statement do you think Hammett wants to make about this society that Spade lives in? 
Watch the following clip that depicts this scene between the fat man and Spade. Answer the question that follows.  (This annotation contains a video)
How does Hammett's depiction of the fat man MOST differ from the director's cinematic depiction you saw in the clip?  
Spade has been calm, collected to a point of near-stoicism in this story. He blows his fuse here, though, and threatens to break his own principles about killing, lying, and losing his cool. Why do you think he is so frustrated? What's making our main character change? 

Chapter 12 - Merry-Go-Round

Which detail from the highlighted passage BEST conveys how much Gutman has affected Spade?  
If Brigid O'Shaughnessy represents a femme fatale, what does Iva Archer represent? Think about the differences between the two, and what you've just learned about her night out from Spade's lawyer. What does her desperation show you about Spade? 
What does this conversation between Spade and Effie reveal about Spade?  
Sam Spade can be compared to a knight. His mission is similar to that of a knight's quest, especially the knights of the medieval time who searched for the holy grail, which, ironically, no one could actually possess. Sir Galahad (shown below) is popularized as the prominent knight who searches for the holy grail. He pursues the cup at all costs, and considers his duty the most important thing in life. In what ways do you think Spade fits into this knight category? (This annotation contains an image)
How is Spade's recovery of the boy's guns seen as a moral victory for our protagonist? 

Chapter 13 - The Emperor's Gift

Hammett definitely picked a controversial and mysterious historical group for a subject of this novel's plot line. The video below shows the conflict surrounding the truth behind the Knights of Rhodes. As you watch this video, and compare this to Gutman's "talk" about the falcon, think about one of the main conflicts Spade has in this novel--digging for truth in a world full of lies.  (This annotation contains a video)
What does Gutman do that BEST conveys the conflict that Spade faces in dealing with the deceit around him?  
There are many tales surrounding the legends of knights, or sires (sirs in modern English), from the medieval time period in Europe. There are several common elements that knights' quests share with this story: unsurmountable obstacles; riddles and perplexing situations that challenge one's concept of truth; a desire for riches and glory; and even the direct challenge of one's morals, ethics, and principles. In what way does Sam's journey through this novel resemble that of a knight's quest?  (This annotation contains an image)
Why does our protagonist lie so often when he bargains with clients? It's part of his job, but it makes one wonder if he, too, will get caught up in the deceit he tries to pull with others. 
What does Hammett imply about Gutman based on the highlighted description?  
Part II Quiz 

Chapter 14 - La Paloma

Which of the following BEST describes the mood that Hammett creates when Effie and Spade interact?  
Local newspapers in the early 20th century made announcements on arrivals and departures. This is what Spade is looking for. An example of this type of column is shown below.  (This annotation contains an image)
Why does Spade smile "ruefully" when he learns about what happened to La Paloma?  

Chapter 15 - Every Crackpot

If you haven't picked up on the subtle clues, Spade uses quite a few homophobic comments (such as the "lily-of-the-valley" as a metaphor) towards Joel Cairo, who is supposedly gay. While some critics have pointed out Hammett's homophobic treatment of Cairo, other critics have highlighted the polarizing effects he creates in regards to masculinity. How would you evaluate Hammett's treatment of Cairo? Do you think it's bigoted, or does it play into the larger theme of masculinity?  
What is the MOST likely reason Spade reluctantly gives away information about his case?  
Why is Spade so critical about the law and its agents? Why does he treat them so contemptuously? If you take the time to reflect on the interactions and run-ins that Spade has with the law, you will start to see a clearer picture of what thematic message Hammett might be sending. Remember that characters and their interactions, especially with opposing figures, often reveal conflicts and themes.  

Chapter 16 - The Third Murder

How does Effie MOST impact Spade and his development in this story?  
Why does Hammett focus so much on his characters' eyes when he describes them? Take this highlighted phrase, for example. What effect does it have on you as a reader? 
What is the thematic significance of Spade's words to Effie?  

Chapter 17 - Saturday Night

Rhea Gutman has a small role in this story, but the impact of her character is far-reaching. She scrapes herself with a pin to keep awake so she can tell Spade information about Brigid. In this dog-eat-dog world of selfishness and greed, what does her character represent?  
In what way does Hammett MOST increase the tension in the plot and ominous mood in this chapter? 
Gutman's villainy is worth thinking about for moment. In what ways does the highlighted passage portray the villainy and passive-aggressive style of this bad guy?  

Chapter 18 - The Fall - Guy

How does Hammett MOST heighten the tense mood of this highlighted scene?   
The movie clip below depicts the scene you've been reading. Watch this clip, and compare it to what you've read. What major difference do you notice between the two? (Hint: Look at the dialogue). Why do you think the director made this decision?  (This annotation contains a video)
A "spade" is a shovel used for digging, but in this novel one gets the sense that it has another connotation when attached to Sam's name. How does Sam's last name BEST relate to how he operates within this story?  
Here's another movie clip from the scene you've just read. Watch the clip, and notice what the movie version emphasizes that the book does not. Why do you think the director made this choice?  (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter 19 - The Russian's Hand

This is an interesting detail to think about. Hammett uses the "v-shaped" motif throughout this novel to describe Sam's chin. What is the connection between the "v-shaped" and Sam's last name? 
What does this conversation with Gutman MOST importantly reveal about Brigid O'Shaughnessy?  
Even as this story begins to draw to an end, Spade cannot tell what's real and what's a lie. Every character lies--pathologically, it seems. What motivates the characters in this story to lie as often as they do?  
Notice how the other characters perceive Spade, and the way he ruthlessly digs for the truth.  
Which of the following words BEST describes the mood among the characters in this scene of the story?  
Gutman's "vacant eyes" show the emptiness of a person who searches for something that can never be found.  
This clip depicts the scene in which the four treasure-hunters finally come across the Maltese Falcon. There are not many differences between the text and the movie, but the text lacks an element that the film can provide--sound, particularly, music. In what way does the music in the movie clip enhance the effectiveness of the mood that Hammett creates in this scene?  (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter 20 - If They Hang You

In what way does Hammett portray a change in Spade's character in the opening of this chapter? 
Notice the imagery that Hammett uses here--wolves and angels. Why is this contrast used to describe Spade and Brigid? Doesn't it make more sense for Brigid to be the wolfish, demonic one, and for Spade to be the saint, angel-like one?  
What theme does Brigid and Spade's final encounter MOST convey?  
Sam Spade is referred to as an Existential hero. He realizes that the world will not help give him meaning, so he must do it alone. With this attitude, does it make sense why he appears so cold to Brigid?  
Sam Spade is definitely a complex character. In fact, it's been hard to guess his motives, his goals, his true self this entire novel. What do you learn about him in this final chapter that seems to explain what drives his decisions? Is this how you expect him to respond to this final crisis?  
Part III Quiz