RARA-AVIS: Sam Spade's morals

From: Michael Robison ( miker_zspider@yahoo.com)
Date: 06 Sep 2005


I see two main arguments you are using to support Sam's morality. The first is his claim that he might not be as crooked as people think. Unlike you, I don't see this as a significant indication that Sam is moral. Even if he stood up in front of a million people on TV and declared he wasn't a crook, I wouldn't find it convincing. What I do find convincing is his revelation a moment later: "Well, a lot of money would have been at least one more item on the other side of the scales." That statement tells me that with a big enough payoff, Brigid might have gone free. Sam is not weighing right and wrong. He is weighing what is good for Sam. He is a self-serving pragmatist.

Your second argument supporting Sam's morality centers around the fact that Sam resists temptation. I don't equate this to morality. A would-be mass murderer stands in the shadows of a nighttime street scene. He is about to step forward and start shooting innocent people when a cop car pulls to the curb. He steps back into the shadows and, even though he wants to do it badly, decides not to. So by resisting temptation and deciding against murder he has demonstrated morality, right? Not hardly. His motivation, like Sam Spade's, is rooted in self-preservation, not morality.

Beyond this, let me quote a few of Sam's reasons for not letting Brigid go:

"Fourth, no matter what I wanted to do now it would be absolutely impossible for me to let you go without having myself dragged to the gallows with the others."

"Next, I've no reason in God's world to think I can trust you and if I did this and got away with it you'd have something on me that you could use whenever you happened to want to."

"The sixth would be that, since I've also got something on you, I couldn't be sure you wouldn't decide to shoot a hole in me some day."

All these reasons are blatantly self-centered. Sam is not above invoking morals, but only when they fit his self-interest. From his affair with his partner's wife in the beginning to his final admission that a genuine falcon could have tipped the scales and set Brigid free, the text consistently portrays a Sam whose dominant interest is himself, with few, if any, morals.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 06 Sep 2005 EDT