Re: RARA-AVIS: Sam Spade's morals

From: Marc Seals (
Date: 03 Sep 2005

----- Original Message ----- From:

> If we accept that Sam is amoral, then aren't we left to wonder at what
> a startling coincidence it is that his pragmatic solution is also the
> moral one?

I, for one, do not think that Spade is amoral. While some have made much of Spade's character flaws, painting him as an anti-hero, perhaps this is really a continuation of Hammett's theme in the novel of contrasting reality with appearance. Spade may look like a devil, but I think that he is at heart a man struggling with his moral code. At the novel's close, he turns the woman he thinks he might love over to the police for the murder of his partner (whom he did not even like). Whether he does so because of principle or to avoid becoming "the sap" is unclear, I think; Spade himself does not seem to know the answer. Life is struggle, Hammett seems to be saying, and those who say they know the answers are either liars or delusional. Perhaps the same is true of those who say they understand Spade.... (And I include myself in that last indictment.)


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