Recently, gender studies have become the main sources of information for understanding gender issues in the society. The masculine and feminine divide used to represent the socially constructed sexual traits which men and women are expected to portray in their relationships and interactions. In The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, the characters strongly conform to socially constructed gender roles in the way they dress, talk and act. This paper explores how the main characters in the novel including the detective, Samuel Spade, his partner, Miles Archer and their client Miss. Rudy Wonderly actively demonstrate the traditional gender roles.
The female characters are expected to exhibit feminism traits through their dressing, talking and acting. In relation to the issue of dressing, Miss. Rudy Wonderly is portrayed as a fashionable and attractive woman. This is demostrated clearly in the first chapter when she is introduced and the way detective Samuel and his partner Archer ...view middle of the document...
This is actually not true because in fact she is behind the murder of Falcon. All she is doing is to use her feminine charms to lure the detectives in believing that she is in love with them then secure her freedom and escape with some of the Falcon’s wealth. Hammett makes her look vulnerable and very harmless. In demonstrating her weak feminine traits, Hammett says of her that “the seemed smaller, and very young and oppressed” (18). She attempts all means possible to win the trust and confidence of Spade who is her only sure means of escape. She appeals to Spade for help by saying “… I'm so alone and afraid, and I've got nobody to help me if you won't help me” (18).
The masculine roles of the main characters, Sam Spade and his partner Archer, are evident in the way they behave and act in the presence of Miss Wonderly. Archer is portrayed as a weak male character that easily falls to the charms, good looks and appeals of Miss Wonderly. When Spade enquires about his opinion of Miss Wonderly, he responds and says, "Sweet! And you telling me not to dynamite her"(5). Archer’s interest in Miss Wonderly is also demonstrated when he tells Spade, “Maybe you saw her first, Sam, but I spoke first"(5). Archer easily falls to the deceptive tricks and charms of Miss Wonerly, which eventually leads to his death (7).
Spade is portrayed as a true masculine character throughout the novel. He maintains his attitude as a strong and independent man whose personality is not influenced by the charming tricks of Miss Wonderly throughout the investigation. Although at some point he develops feelings for Miss Wonderly, Spade makes it clear to her that he knows her lies and tricks. He says "We didn't exactly believe your story…" but we believe that “…you paid us more than if you'd been telling the truth…” (17).
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett is a great piece of literature that demonstrates the construction of the socially stereotyped traditional gender roles. Miss Wonderly is portrayed as a feminine character who clearly demonstrates the feminism traits. Spade on the other hand struggles to maintain his strong and masculine traits. Even though he falls for Miss Wonderly, he maintains his strong features throughout the investigation.
Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon. USA: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1930. Print.