In the passage Spade Archer, Dashiell Hammett uses lengthy description of the physical attributes of characters to create a long-lasting impression on the mind of the reader. For example, the author’s description of Sam Spade is interesting because of the manner in which Sam’s mean-looking frame is brought out. Hammett says, “Spades jaw was long, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v.he looked rather pleasantly like a blond Satan” (2). Apart from grabbing the attention of the reader, the vivid description makes the character appear real. This is evident when the author describes Spade’s body frame later in the story. “He was quite six feet tall. The steep rounded slope of his shoulders made his body seem almost comical – no broader than it was thick – and kept his freshly pressed grey coat fitting very well” (2). Through this description, the author creates a mental picture of a man who looked like a detective. The huge body frame and fitting clothes match Sam’s role as a detective. In essence, the vivid description of Sam’s body makes him appear more authentic. Hammett’s graphic description of the characters in the passage is also evident when he talks about Miss Wonderly. This is what he says about her “She was tall and pliantly slender, without angularity anywhere. Her body was erect and high-breasted, her legs long, her hands and feet narrowThe hair curling under from her blue hat was darkly red, her full lips more brightly red” (2). From this description, Miss Wonderly comes across as young and innocent girl looking for help. The description fits well into her character – she plays the role of an innocent girl concerned about her lost sister – and contributes to the development of the plot. While the first physical description of Sam Spade (as a tough-looking man) fits well into the role he plays a detective working in San Francisco, Miss Wonderly’s physical description fits well into her role as a desperate girl who is genuinely looking for help. From the author’s description, she appears harmless and deeply concerned. In a conversation between her and detective Sam, Miss Wonderly comes across as someone who genuinely cares about her sister. For example, when narrating about the disappearance of her sister, Hammett says this about her “Her lips trembled. Her hands mashed the dark handbag in her lap” (3). All these descriptions match the experiences of someone who is deeply upset, as you would expect of someone who has lost a sibling. Therefore, it can be said that physical description is used by the narrator for twin purposes. As described earlier, the first purpose is to capture the attention of the reader, while the second purpose is to marry physical attributes with the roles assigned to each of the characters. It, therefore, becomes easy for the reader to understand the role of the different characters and how that contributes to the development of the passage. The characterization also helps to build the identity of the novel in general. For example, the author’s portrayal of Miss Wonderly as someone who is sly builds the plot of the story in the later stages of the novel. The author says, “She advanced slowly, with tentative steps, looking at Spade with Cobalt blue eyes that were both shy and probing” (2). In the later stages of the novel, it becomes evident that Miss Wonderly is deceitful, and she is not the person she pretended to be. She just wants to use the detectives to gain protection. It seems that she is under the trail of dangerous people involved in the smuggling of a sculpture stolen from Malta hence the name of the novel: The Maltese Falcon. This is evident when both Miles Archer and Floyd Thursby end up dead on the very night Miss Wonderly meets the detectives and pleads with them to trail Thursby and know where he is living. The naming of characters in Spade Archer is also important to the novel. The author uses unique names that match either the physical body frame of the character or the role of the character. For example, the name spade matches the physical appearance of his character. “He was quite six feet tall. The steep rounded slope of his shoulders made his body seem almost comical- no broader than it was thick- and kept his freshly pressed grey coat fitting very well” (2). In this description, Sam looks cuts a figure of his second name: spade. The name wonder also matches with the character of Miss Wonderly. Although nobody knew her very well, she soon manages to capture the attention of detective Sam Spade and Miles Archer. In addition, she gives a fake name, as it is discovered much later. Therefore, her whereabouts still remain unknown, and her name matches the role she plays: that of a mysterious girl. Lastly, the name Archer suits the physical appearance of Miles. He had an athletic figure that matched his name. “He was of medium height, solidly built, wide in the shoulders, thick in the neck, with a jovial heavy-jawed red face and some grey in his close-trimmed hair” (5). In conclusion, Dashiell Hammett uses characterization in Spade Archer to capture the attention of the readers as well as in developing his plot. The physical appearance of the characters matches very well with their roles. In addition, the author carefully selects unique names for the characters to match their physical appearances and complement their roles in the novel.
Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon . New York, NY : Vintage, 1989. Print.