East Bay Book Club Message Board › Meeting Recap: December 2012 Classic Book Discussion (The Maltese Falcon by
Union City, CA
While The Maltese Falcon is one of those books that many people would consider light reading, the East Bay Book Club's discussion of the book on December 5, 2012, was rather interesting. I had not expected a book like this to have, to a certain extent, some deep observations and thoughts. First, I would like to thank club member Rachel for presenting the author's biography and book facts from memory. Also thanks to Deb M for leading the discussion.
Here's a sample of the questions in the discussion, and some of the answers to them. (In some cases, there was just one answer, and the discussion quickly moved on to the next question.)
Why does Sam Spade take the case?
- The woman who came into his office was pretty.
(If there was another answer given, I had neglected to write it down.)
Regarding feminity, discuss the traits of Brigid O'Shaughnessy, Effie Perrine, and Eva Archer.
- The three women represent three different traits in women. Eva is the desperate one, Effie is the innocent one, and Brigid is the one in her prime.
- Another answer: Effie is the mother figure, Brigid is the unattainable woman, and Eva is past her prime.
Regarding masculinity, discuss Sam Spade and the other male characters in the novel.
- Wilmer is one of the least masculine characters, especially with his young age.
- Sam is the most masculine.
Discuss Cairo's homosexuality.
- Was that characteristic just there as an excuse for Sam Spade to pick on Cairo?
- Homosexuality could make the character of Cairo bitter if he is living in an era that really frowns upon it.
- It does add variety to the male characters in the story.
Sam Spade's attitude toward authority
- It's evident in the discussion in the late part of the story about who the fall guy should be. Sam seems to just want a solution where everyone gets what they deserve, even if it conflicts with established law enforcement practices and doctrines.
- The police did look for the obvious when Sam Spade's partner got murdered and it is known that the partner's wife was having an affair with Sam. That could certainly make Sam less trustful of authority.
The city of San Francisco as a setting
- It didn't matter if it was San Francisco or some other city like Chicago (which has connections with organized crime). As long as there is a major city for the story, the story can occur.
- The specific location can add realism to the story, when readers familiar with the setting can follow the story in his or her head. It's similar to how Raymond Chandler, the other major hard-boiled detective novelist, writes about Los Angeles in his stories.
The Maltese falcon itself
- It's a symbol for desire and greed.
- It's like buried treasure, where the quest to get it provides the real thrill.
- Motives for certain characters: Gutman sees the bird as having historical value, while Brigid sees it as a means for wealth.
What if a woman had written The Maltese Falcon? Would the three female characters be in the book?
- Unanimous answer: Probably not
Overall, one person definitely disliked the book while the rest liked it or thought it was OK. Some criticisms mainly pertained to stereotypes in the book, especially those of women. Otherwise, some people found it interesting to connect the story with the era in which it was written and also the city of San Francisco as a setting. (By the way, one member did bring a copy of a map of San Francisco with the novel's locations marked on it.)
All in all, it was a fun meeting. :-)