Existentialism: Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon
Dashiell Hammett, father of the American hard-boiled genre, is widely known for producing a suffocating world of realism in his works (“Hard-boiled fiction”). According to Paul Abraham’s “On re-reading The Maltese Falcon,” the realistic atmosphere of Hammett’s third novel is reactionary to the post-war turmoil in which the work was born (97). This provides the ideal foundation for subtle philosophical concepts of existentialism such as, quests for truth, self identification, and the significance of existence to build throughout the novel. Richard Layman, in his critical review of Hammett’s novel (also titled The Maltese Falcon), proposes that the philosophies of Hammett’s generation can be found within the text of his novel (71). Hammett conveys an existential theme in his work The Maltese Falcon through his use of themes of inquiry and self absorbed characters as well as his Flitcraft parable. Existentialism, in a simple form, is a philosophy concerning existence and its significance. Layman asserts that “[existentialism] had its roots in the mid-nineteenth century and flourished in the United States from the 1930s until the 1960s” (71). According to the web-article “World War I” from the New World Encyclopedia, subsequent to the Great War, “the optimism for world peace of the 1900s was entirely gone.” Therefore, without the blinders of social optimism, American society could question ideas such as, the occurrence of mass destruction in a “just” world and the significance of existence in such a world. Hammett’s firsthand experience with the existential crisis—caused by what the historical context from the website “The Maltese Falcon” presents as global wars, the Great Depression, and other struggles of the 1930s—leads Hammett to employ different techniques throughout his work, providing subtle allusions to existentialism. One method through which Hammett conveys existentialistic thought is through his...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document