Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Random Notes On Redemption

From: Patrick King (
Date: 06 Sep 2009

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    What I think you miss is that love is no more logical than the supernatural rules of morality. Love is based on emotion, trigged by hormones, not reason. All the things you say about Spade's understanding of Brigid can be true and still not negate the feelings that he has for her. These are feelings that he states in the book and movie. It is the ability of women to tempt men despite the men's better judgements that is at the base of femme fatality. Literature is littered with the corpses of people who, unlike Spade, either hoped to reform their lovers or went along for the ride.


    What you say about love may be true for a 17-year-old. Hopefully not for many 38-year-olds. Where does Spade express his love for Brigid in terms that are not at best ironic, and at worst sarcastic? "When they let you out I'll be waiting." Wink wink: sure, he's going to wait 17 years if she's lucky. "I hope they don't hang you by that sweet neck, precious." He could care less. He's caught her and he's done with her. The case against her is iron-clad.

    What lines are you reading or hearing that indicate he has any actually fondness for her? He even makes her unwillingly strip naked in front of three men and himself at gun point. Is this something you do to a woman you love, admire and trust?

    From the moment "Wonderly" walks into the office, Spade distrusts her and openly expresses his distrust directly to her. She offers him her body and he takes it and uses it to his own purpose. I can see no shred of evidence that Spade has any romantic or even friendly feelings toward this woman whom he knew from the beginning killed his partner.

    Sam Spade is a man playing with spiders, all of them. That is what is so intriguing about the story. He toys with the psychopathic Wilmer Cook whom he knows murders without thought. He sleeps with the equally deadly Brigid.


    As for Spade being impervious to any idea that the Falcon has artistic or historical value, that's what I said, and what Hammett is saying, but clearly this is a significant part of what motivates Gutman. You call this motivation madness, and that's fine by me, but it's a common madness, a madness that is at the root of whatever economic value the statue may or may not have in the book, and the dreams that so many of us have in life.


    A common madness is: "My husband has a life insurance policy for 3 million dollars made out to my favor. If you help me kill him, I'll share it with you." Several of these happen every year with different outcomes.

    Less common: "My husband owns the Cornucopia..." "My husband owns The Holy Grail..." "Blackbeard's treasure is buried in my ex-husband's back yard."

    The criminal who falls for one of these is possessed of a special type of insanity... and a certain gullibility.


    And yes, Spade is motivated to save his business, the pursuit of a job well done, but I think Hammett recognized that something is lost in denying love, art and dreams. Early on he devotes a paragraph to Spade's physical description, entirely in satanic terms. At the end it's suggested that Spade goes back to a relationship with Archer's wife, a woman he clearly does not even like, let alone love. She's probably a good lay though, another job well done.


    Well, he describes Spade as a blond Satan, which, to me means Spade has pointed features and a thin face. I don't know what you mean by "entirely satanic terms." I didn't attribute that much symbolism to the comment beyond expecting that this character would play fast and lose with morality, which he, in fact, does.


    Yes Patrick, we've read the same book, seen the same movie. But you have to see all of each and not leave out the bits that don't fit your heroic interpretation of Spade. It's a better, more complex narrative than you credit it.


    I'd appreciate it if you'd point more specifically to the parts I've missed. I think you're adding your own romantic spin to what is really a pretty dark and scary story. But I appreciate your feedback, Kerry.

    Patrick King


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