RARA-AVIS: The Flitcraft Parable

From: Frederick Zackel ( fzackel@wcnet.org)
Date: 27 Feb 2008

I'm using it as one of the essay questions in my English 300 California Lit. In case any of you masochists are looking for a rough time ...

The Flitcraft Essay Assignment is due Sunday March 16th.


This semester we will have two essays. While more details will soon be forthcoming, please be advised that--


The First Essay is due Sunday, March 16th.


Yes, the next day is Saint Patrick's Day. Would you want to try writing a paper AFTER Saint Patrick's Day?

The first essay is worth fifty (50) points.


This assignment will also be available 24/7 under "Assignments" at the course website at My BGSU.

The Flitcraft Parable appears in Chapter Seven of The Maltese Falcon.




Did you notice it?


The Parable stops the plot in its tracks.


Why must Spade tell Brigid this curious story?


By the same token, why was it important she does not understand what he is telling her?


In classical lit, often stories are told and audiences are not listening. I wonder what the writer was up to using that narrative scheme.


Maybe you think telling the Flitcraft parable lifted the lid on Spade's head to see how he works inside.


One student once said, "Spade must have really loved her to warn her like this." Hmmm. Do you buy that thesis?


Another student once wrote that Brigid played her trump card and it was a Spade. (ROTF-LOL.)


Another student dug up Jo Hammett's biography of her father.


Somebody said Flitcraft's beam is Spade's Falcon. What does that mean?


Somebody else found Hammett in Gerry Brenner's "Performative Criticism Experiments in Reader Response." Wha????


Others quoted Camus on Sisyphus. Some talked about Einstein and the Old Man who Plays Dice with the Universe. I mean, we are talking about one views on Life, the Universe and Everything, right?


Some think it is pure Modernism. Others say pure Existentialism.


Well, you will not be able to answer until you finish reading the entire book. Then go back and dig.


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.


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?


What is the secret of Flitcraft?


Oh, there is no single answer. It is a debate. So do not look for a single answer. Prowl the debate. See what secrets you can uncover.


The Falcon is a treasure hunt. No kidding. What treasures from philosophy or theology or psychology or cosmology can you see?


Maybe you want to delve into literature. The only other instance I know where the plot comes to such a screeching halt is the Alas Poor Yorick scene in Hamlet. I wonder if . . .

Write an argumentative essay. Just so I have good enough research from everybody, at least six (6) quotes from outside academic and / or scholarly sources are required.


Quote the Falcon as often as YOUR ESSAY needs; I am not counting those quotes. (I almost said Quote the Raven. You know, I bet Hammett read Poe, too, and not just Twain.)


Check with the Pop Culture library at Jerome. It is one of the best.


Base your essay upon your personal experiences and the analytical skills you have acquired through this course.

Analyze but don't philosophize.


"Analyze" means "separate your ideas into parts" and then look closely at each one separately. Don't sit back and ruminate (like a philosopher) on the Big Picture.

Argue your thesis. Your thesis should be a well-reasoned, well-supported convincing argument. One that is authoritative and persuasive. Whatever reasons, evidence, and examples are given, all support your judgment and opinion. So your authority & credibility are at stake here. Solid evidence and sound reasoning come from a thorough analysis (which is a detailed understanding.)

Be very specific; identify precisely characters, scenes, page numbers, whatever -- wherever necessary. When the character changes, point that out and suggest why.


Six (6) quotes are required, either from outside academic and / or scholarly sources. Internet sources are NOT permitted.


Let me repeat that: Internet sources are not permitted. Nor are dictionary definitions or encyclopedia entries. Cite specific passages or incidents to buttress your argument. Quote your outside sources very often to prove each of your points. A Work Cited Page should be included.

Those of you on campus might want to make your appointment at the Writing Lab as soon as you can. Bring the assignment sheet with your drafts.

In your first draft, spill your guts and do not try to be perfect. After you write your first draft, go carefully over what you have written and discover what statement you most firmly believe in. That may be your thesis, and you may have it lost or obscured inside your essay.


Tip: Where do you write "What I can't stop thinking about--"?


Once you know what you believe most, then put that sentence at the beginning of your paper. Yes, the very first sentence.

Argue your thesis. (What's the first thought that comes to your mind? Now write it down. Do it now. Don't let it slip away. Write it down now. Trust your instinct.) Your central thesis should be your first sentence.


"Based on evidence from the text and my own personal experience, I argue that . . ."

Length: Your drafts should be 1000 words minimum, i.e., a hundred lines long. Look under "Tools"" on your word processor for "Word count.""


Try to keep this essay less than nine pages in length. One-inch margins on all sides. Double-spaced.


Hint: at the library website, under key words, type in "Hammett" and check out "Critical Responses."

The First Essay is due Sunday, March 16th.


Good luck & best wishes.

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 27 Feb 2008 EST