Re: RARA-AVIS: Sam Spade's morals

Date: 04 Sep 2005


Re your comment below:

> When [Brigid] asks him
> what he would do if the falcon had been real, he
> shrugs and says that everything would have to be
> reweighed in that case.
> Sam Spade is an opportunistic pragmatist, not a
> noble
> and selfless knight like Chandler's Marlowe. Sam
> loves Brigid but can't keep her because he doesn't
> trust her.

You're misreading that scene (and leaving out a fairly crucisl piece of dialog), if you think it proves Spade's amorality.

Spade doesn't simply say that he'd have to reweigh all the factors before he can answer Brigid's question. He says, "Don't make the mistake of thinking I'm as crooked as my reputation." Only then does he admit that the Falcon would be a tempting factor.

But we already know that he's resisting temptation. Before he says any of this he says that he won't
"because all of me wants to." He knows what the right thing to do is. But because of his love (or lust) for Brigid, he's sorely tempted to say "to hell with the consequences" and let her get away with her crimes. But he's resisting temptation, determined to follow his code and do the right thing, whatever the emotional consequences. That's not pragmatism; that's strong moral fiber.

Spade may not be the knight errant Marlowe is, but that's not because he's either immoral or amoral. It's because he, like the Op, is results-oriented. He and the Op are pros concerned about getting their job done, about reaching the goal.

Marlowe, on the other hand, is process-oriented, less concerned about getting the job done than with doing things the right way. And he's continually agaonizing about it. Marlowe is haunted by the fact that he's chosen a profession that is "not a game for knights." The fact that detective work is not a game for knights would never even occur to the Op or Spade.

But notions of knightly honor are not what makes a man moral. Making hard choices is. Doing what you believe to be right, no matter how much you want to do what you believe to be wrong, is. And, by that standard, Spade is a moral man.


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