dashiell hammett

Biography Dashiell Hammett The author’s life can inform and expand the reader’s understanding of a novel. By looking through the lens of the author’s experience, we can more fully understand the novel.

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Power Point can be used to guide lesson(s) on Dashiell Hammett's novel, The Maltese Falcon.


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BiographyDashiell Hammett

• The author’s life can inform and expand the reader’s understanding of a novel.

• By looking through the lens of the author’s experience, we can more fully understand the novel.

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The Pinkerton National Detective Agency

• The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, usually shortened to the Pinkertons, was a private U.S. security guard and detective agency established by Allan Pinkerton in 1850.

• Pinkerton became famous when he foiled a plot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln, who later hired Pinkerton agents for his personal security during the Civil War.

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Pinkerton guards escort strikebreakers in Buchtel, Ohio, 1884.

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Pulp Fiction• Pulp magazines (or pulp

fiction; often referred to as "the pulps") were inexpensive fiction magazines.

• They were widely published from 1896 through the 1950s. The standard format was a 7" x 10" magazine with a spine, printed on cheap paper with ragged untrimmed edges.

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A New Genre Begins

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Femme Fatale• 1 : a seductive

woman who lures men into dangerous or compromising situations.

• 2 : a woman who attracts men by an aura of charm and mystery.

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Hard-boiled Detective• The term comes from a

colloquial phrase of understatement. For an egg, to be hardboiled is to be comparatively tough.

• The hardboiled detective—epitomized by Hammett's Sam Spade—not only solves mysteries, like his "softer" counterparts, he confronts danger and engages in violence on a regular basis. He has a trademark “tough” exterior.

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Allegory• Allegory teaches a

lesson through symbolism. Allegory communicates its message by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation.

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Falcon• A falcon (pronounced

/ˈfɔːlkən/ or /ˈfælkən/) is any species of raptor in the genus Falco. The word comes from their Latin name falco, related to Latin falx ("sickle") because of the shape of these birds' wings.

• Peregrine Falcons have been recorded diving at speeds of 200 miles per hour (320 km/h), making them the fastest-moving creatures on Earth

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Character Development• Novels trace the

development of characters that encounter a series of challenges.

• Most characters contain a complex balance of virtues and vices.

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The Protagonist undergoes profound change

• Internal and external forces require characters to question themselves, overcome fears, or reconsider dreams.

• A close study of character development maps the evolution of motivation, personality, and belief in each character.

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Tension between a character’s strengths and weaknesses

• The tension between a character’s strengths and weaknesses keeps the reader guessing about what might happen next, affecting the drama and the plot.

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Flat vs. Round Characters• “Flat” or “two-dimensional

characters in a fictional work do not experience a profound emotional change or personal growth during the course of the story.

• They serve to provide comic relief or help advance the plot.

• “Round” or three-dimensional” characters have complex emotions and motivations.

• They encounter conflict and are changed by it.

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Archetypical private detective• Sam Spade is motivated not

by conventional standards, but by an internal code of conduct.

• He tells the other characters what he believes they want to hear without revealing how much truth he has pieced together.

• Spade divulges only what suits his purposes. His motivations remain a mystery until the end.

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The classic femme fatale• Brigid O’Shaughnessy is

beautiful but dangerous.• She lies compulsively,

revealing bits of truth sandwiched between falsehoods. She feigns loyalty to various characters, but ultimately she betrays them all.

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Discussion Activity• Identify some of your favorite fictional

characters.• What attributes bring them to life?• Some critics feel that the characters in The

Maltese Falcon lack depth. Do you agree?• Which characters in the novel seem the most

“real” to you? Why?• Consider how using two-dimensional characters

can sometimes enable writers to represent broad concepts (allegory).

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Writing Exercise• Write 2 paragraphs:• Choose a character from The Maltese Falcon

you feel you can trust the most.• Explain what particular actions or qualities

contribute to your feeling.• Support your answer with examples from the


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Themes of the Novel• Profound questions raised

by the story allow the character (and the reader) to explore the meaning of human life and extract themes.

• Themes investigate topics explored for centuries by philosophers, politicians, scientists, historians, and theologians.

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Classic Themes

• Good vs. Evil

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Personal Moral Code vs. Society’s Demands

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Romeo and Juliet

• A novel can shed light on age-old debates by creating new situations to challenge and explore human nature.

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• Gutman, Cairo, O’Shaughnessy, and Wilmer have been pursuing the falcon for some time. Spade has only recently joined the search. What are the characters’ various motivations? Are Spade’s more noble than the others? Why or why not?

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Trust• After Spade discovers some of Brigid’s lies, she pleads

with him, “I’ve been bad—worse than you could know—but I’m not all bad. Look at me, Mr. Spade. You know I’m not all bad, don’t you? You can see that, can’t you? Then can’t you trust me just a little?”

• 1) Why does Brigid want so desperately for Sam to trust her?

• 2) Does she trust him? Why or why not?

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Human Adaptability• Throughout the novel, circumstances change that are beyond

the control of the characters. The way they adapt (or cannot adapt) reveals a great deal about their personalities. How do the various characters react to the following situations?

• Ch. 7: Lt. Dundy and Tom pay a surprise visit to Spade’s apartment. Cairo, Brigid and Spade each react quite differently. How does the action of each character advance the plot?

• Ch. 19: Using his knife, Gutman finds that the falcon is made of lead. How do the various characters react? Do any of their actions surprise you? Why or why not?

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What Makes a Great Book/Story?

• Great stories articulate and explore the mysteries of our daily lives while painting those conflicts in the larger picture of human struggle.

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A Great Novel Imagines, Teaches, Reflects

• Readers forge bonds with the story as the writer’s voice, style, and sense of poetry inform the plot, characters, and themes.

• A great novel is a work of art that affects many generations of readers, changing lives, challenging assumptions, and breaking new ground.

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Discussion Activities• Make a list of the characteristics of a great

book.• What elevates a novel to greatness?• What other books do you know that include

some of these characteristics of “greatness?”• Where would you place The Maltese Falcon in

terms of these characteristics?• Is this a great novel?

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The Voice of a Generation• A great writer can be the voice of a generation. • What kind of voice does Hammett provide through

the third-person objective narration of this hard-boiled detective novel?

• What does this voice tell us about the concerns and dreams of Hammett’s generation?

• What do you think is the single most important theme of the novel?

• If you were the voice of your generation, what would be your most important message? What story would you tell to get your point across?