Essay about Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon

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In traditional hard-boiled American detective fiction there are many themes that seem to transcend all novels. One of those themes is the concept of power and the role in which it plays in the interaction and development of characters. More specifically, the role of women within the novels can be scrutinized to better understand the power they hold over the other characters, their own lives and the direction of the story. Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon exemplifies the varying ways in which female characters attempt to obtain and utilize power in hopes of influencing, manipulating and succeeding.
The most prominent female character in the novel, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, employs her sexuality, secrecy and mysterious nature when trying
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“I don’t know where she met him. I mean I don’t know where in New York. She’s five years younger than I—only seventeen—and we didn’t have the same friends…I’ve got to get her back before they come home” (Hammett, 5). From the beginning of the novel O’Shaughnessy wants to acquire power so begins constructing falsifications and weaving a very tangled web, however, she is unsuccessful in upholding her lies. The inability of Brigid O’Shaughnessy to attain and maintain power is symbolic of the generalized role of women throughout the novel.
Similar to O’Shaughnessy, the character Iva Archer also exemplifies the struggle of women to get power in the masculine and testosterone driven world of hard-boiled fiction. However, Archer is very unsuccessful in her attempts because, since she is such a flat character, all her control must be derived from her sexual nature. “She was a blond woman of a few years more than thirty. Her facial prettiness was perhaps five years past its best moment. Her body for all its sturdiness was finely molded and exquisite” (Hammett, 25). She is a very obviously attractive woman and is able to get some basics that she desires; nevertheless, Archer’s inability to use her sexuality effectively depletes her power later on in the novel. “‘I know I haven’t. I haven’t any rights at
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