Dashiell Hammett’s novel, The Maltese Falcon, is a hard-boiled detective novel; a subset of the mystery genre. Before the appearance of this sub-genre, mystery novels were mainly dominated by unrealistic cases and detectives like Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. As Malmgren states, “The murders in these stories are implausibly motivated, the plots completely artificial, and the characters pathetically two-dimensional, puppets and cardboard lovers, and paper mache villains and detectives of exquisite and impossible gentility.” (Malmgren, 371) On the other hand, Hammett tried to write realistic mystery fiction – the “hard-boiled” genre. In the Maltese Falcon, Hammett uses language, symbolism, and characterization to bring the story closer to reality.
The Maltese Falcon is written in a casual tone filled with colloquialisms in a clipped laconic style from an objective point of view. In the novel, Hammett used a lot of slang that are specific to one social group: the underworld criminals, and the police & detectives who dealt with them. For example, when Spade is being accused by the police for killing his partner, Miles Archer, he said:
You oughtn’t try to pin more than one murder at a time on me. Your first idea that I knocked Thursby [a character who is murdered near the beginning of the novel] off because he killed Miles falls apart if you blame me for killing Miles, too […] But suppose I did, you could’ve blipped ‘em both. (Hammett, 451)
Words such as pin (accused), knock off (kill) and blip (kill) are widely known slang terms at the time, so incorporating them into speeches makes the characters more rough and realistic. Hammett uses a clipped, laconic style which speeds the action along, controls emotion and limits clear access to character’s thoughts by the readers. For instance, when Brigid tries to bribe Spade into getting the Maltese Falcon for her, Spade’s only response is, “Five thousand dollars is a lot of money” (Hammett, 57), which leaves both Brigid and the readers guessing at what Spade is thinking and what he means by that reply. When Brigid tries further to persuade Spade:
“You won’t – you can’t – treat me like that.” Her eyes were cobalt-blue prayers.
“Five thousand dollars is,” He said for the third time, “a lot of money”
She lifted her shoulders and hands and let them fall. “It is,” she agreed in a small dull voice. “It is far more than I could ever offer you, if I must bid for your loyalty.”
Spade laughed. His laughter was brief and somewhat bitter. “That is good,” he said, “coming from you.” (Hammett, 57)
this clipped, laconic style was considered to be highly realistic and appropriate around the time this work was written. Also, Hammett’s “objective” point of view plays hand in hand with that literary style, such as how Spade is shown to be calmly rolling a cigarette after the news of Archer’s death through pages 16 to 18; his feelings are unknown, but readers see his careful precise technique. The clipped, laconic...