The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, as do the Discussion Questions in the Reader’s Guide. Advanced students can come up with their own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided here.
For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis—that is, an assertion—about the novel. This statement or thesis should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting reasons should be backed by references to the text.
1. Write an essay about what motivates Sam Spade. Does he demonstrate commitment to his profession? If so, how? Is he a hero or an antihero? Which character most effectively serves as a foil to Spade? What personality traits make the foil effective? Are Spade and the foil more alike or different?
2. Sam Spade has three women in his life. Compare his relationships to Effie Perine, Iva Archer, and Brigid O’Shaughnessy. How are they similar? How are they different? Does Sam care for any of them, or is he simply using each to his own purposes? Does he trust any of them? Support your answers with examples from the text.
3. Write an essay that analyzes the relevance of the Flitcraft parable. What does it mean? What does it reveal about Sam Spade? Brigid O’Shaughnessy? How would the novel be different if Hammett had chosen not to include it?
4. Discuss the ways money motivates characters throughout the novel. Which characters seem most interested in money? The Maltese Falcon was published in 1930, the end of the decade known as the Roaring Twenties, a very prosperous period in our nation’s history. Do you think Hammett is sending a moral message about the relentless pursuit of wealth? If so, what is that message?