Character Analysis of Sam Spade

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Sam Spade the Anti-Hero
We often look back upon Sam Spade, the protagonist in The Maltese Falcon, as the first example of the modern day detective. This modern day detective is the gruff Man who keeps his wits about him, always gets the ladies, and cracks the case in the end. Sam Spade does fit into this category and it is for that reason that Sam Spade can be properly categorized as an anti-hero.

While Sam Spade is indeed the protagonist of the novel, he is by no means a hero in the traditional sense of the world. One of Sam Spade’s most notorious lines that place him into the anti-hero category is when he says, “I hope they don’t hang you, precious, by that sweet neck. Yes, angel, I’m gonna send you over. The chances are you’ll get off with life. That means if you’re a good girl, you’ll be out in 20 years. I’ll be waiting for you. If they hang you, I’ll always remember you.” (Hammett 211). This one action by Sam Spade truly sets him apart as the anti-hero because it was so revolutionary for the time. Many readers were used to the idea of the hero saving the day for everyone, or even sacrificing himself to save his lovely lady. This would fit nicely into the mold of Philip Marlowe from The Big Sleep. Sam does explain his logic, however, when he says, “I won’t play the sap for you.” (215) This one line is very significant because it justifies Spade’s action of turning Brigid in to the police, but still allows Sam to remain an anti-hero because we have no way of knowing if Brigid would have double-crossed him in time. Not only does Sam choose to save himself at the possible cost of Brigid’s life at the end, but he has his way with her and other ladies throughout the novel, which further allows him to be categorized as a romantic hero.

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Throughout the novel, we see Sam expertly juggle the affections of Brigid and Iva, while maintaining a very good relationship with his secretary, Effie. This shows that Sam is indeed a romantic hero because nearly every woman he comes across wants him, even if he does not want her. This fact is supported in Brigid’s case, as displayed in “Hammett: The Maltese Falcon” Bill Delaney writes, “Brigid believes Spade loves her and intends to shield her from the police. That is exactly what he has been doing all along most notably in chapter 8 when they barge into his apartment.” (Delaney 1). However, Sam’s role as a romantic hero is put into the spotlight when he speaks of his relationship with Iva, his murdered partner’s wife. Sam states, “I wish to Christ I’d never seen her.” (27) As shown by Sam’s actions toward Iva, such as refusing to meet with her, dodging her at almost every turn, and going to the point of scolding her outside of the hotel, he has no problem with using one or multiple women. This fact not only furthers the argument of Sam’s role as a romantic hero, but also the argument of his role as an anti-hero.

Sam maintains these aspects of his character throughout the duration of the novel, which can lead us to believe he is a static character. From the very beginning of the novel, Sam is motivated to help Brigid, and the rest of his clients, through money. This point is further proven when Sam states, “We didn’t exactly believe your story, Miss O’Shaughnessy. We believed your 200 dollars. I mean, you paid us more than if you had been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it all right.” (213). Sam is not motivated to help Brigid or any of his clients. Instead, he is motivated to further his own personal gain and make sure he is well taken care of. This is displayed when Sam takes additional money from Brigid at her apartment, and again when he agrees to help Cairo for a large sum of money. At the end of the novel, Sam makes no money from all his troubles with the Maltese Falcon, but he does emerge completely unscathed because he took measures to protect himself, much as we could have predicted he would in the beginning of the novel. To further support this idea, we see that in the beginning of the novel, Sam is unaffected by the death of his partner. This leads us to believe that Sam is a man interested only in his own well-being because many men, upon seeing their dead partner, would be filled with rage or sadness. Sam is cold and calculated about what he has to do as shown when he says, “Miles has been shot. . . . Yes, he’s dead. . . . Now don’t get excited. . . Yes, but don’t tie me up to anything. . . . That’s the stuff. You’re an angel. ‘Bye.” (16) Sam displays no remorse and wants to make sure that he does not have to deal with Miles’ wife. Towards the end of the novel, Sam is just as cold and calculated when he decided to turn Brigid in. He coldly and calmly explains his logic, knowing that he could possibly be sending her away to death. From
the beginning of the novel to the end of the novel, Sam displays no emotional change. This clearly fits the definition of a static character and is one more category we can put the character of Sam Spade into.

Sam Spade can be looked back upon as a “rough beginning” to the modern day detective. He contains all the characters of today’s detectives except for the fact that he is not chivalrous. It is easy to imagine Sam Spade as a very rough modern day James Bond in that he is very good with the ladies, solves the crime in the end, and is able to put the villains away. Sam Spade lived up to each of these characteristics because he is a romantic hero, he was able to solve every crime in the case at the end, and he made sure Gutman, Cairo, and Wilmer, along with Brigid were all sent away. Thus, through Sam’s actions and words we can properly categorize him as an anti-hero, a romantic hero, and as a static character, while maintaining that he was indeed the original modern day detective. Works Cited

Delaney, Bill. “Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon.” Explicator 63.3 (2005): 167-169. MAS Ultra. Web. 29 Sept. 2013. Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Print.

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Character Analysis of Sam Spade. (2016, Oct 11). Retrieved from

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