Characteristics of Human Behavior

Apparent versus actual human behavior in a world where "Justice cannot continually exist alongside loyalty to loved ones"

The two texts, the City of Glass and The Maltese Falcon, are both based on the detective genre and embedded within these are the base characteristics of human beings in the face of various exterior factors.

Themes of Lies and deception, death, identity, truth and authority, and justice

With the Maltese Falcon oriented to the modernism period, there are general expectations on the revelations of truth, time moving in a chronological sequence and characters developed to progress the plot. The City of glass on the different hand is a Post-modern set piece and highlights much of the characteristics of the creativity of the time, abounding as it does in much non-truths, compressed time spaces and non-progression, (Herman, 1995)The plots are developed from two characters Spade and Daniel Quinn respectively. As each makes an attempt to unravel the mysteries surrounding their different lives, truths about people, even those that are close to them, emerge. Amidst these surfacing truths, four major themes that show specific ideological beliefs can be found which are, lies and deception, death, identity, truth and authority and justice. The two worlds that are portrayed and the character developments in each may differ but the general truths about human behavior stand strong.

Spade's unpredictable reactions and the question of comradeship

These truths about human behavior are first implied in the characterization of Spade where reactions to events cannot always be predicted. As he works with his partner Archer, one has the notion that they are close and would thus expect them to care deeply about each other. When Spade is informed of Archer's death and, at the scene of the murder, he is given the first call, "I figured you would want to see it before taking him away," by Tom, (pp 7) one would expect him to break down or show some emotion. His blandness is so acute it confuses Tom who with a scowl opens and closes his mouth without saying a thing. He is confounded.

Deception as a human truth

Tom's confusion can be viewed in two different ways. Firstly that he was expecting Spade to break down and might have been ready with words of comfort but finds that those words might be futile in the light of Spade's reaction. The expected or social norm, in this case, would be that when one works in close quarters with another and they suddenly find them dead they ought to portray devastation or at the very least sadness and Space's non-emotive state deviates from those norms, leaving the reader with the question, 'Why was he not that shaken by the sudden death of one with whom a few hours earlier they had shared silent knowing winks over the dashing beauty in their midst attesting to a comradeship of sorts.

Escaping reality through false identities

This assumed comradeship happens to be the second possible reason Tom is confounded. In his belief of the closeness between Spade and Miles, there has to be something Spade knows about the circumstances surrounding Miles's death. Spade's rather dismissive manner is discouraging for one to broach the subject. Indirectly, this points to the curious nature of human beings where an event raises all sorts of questions and they hope to get the first real truths from those most likely to be possession of the necessary details; in this case, Spade. Tom is at a loss for words because he is decidedly stopped from making further inquiries by Spade. Spade's reaction may, therefore, not be so much as being cold but rather defensive. He might be trying to avoid unnecessary probing choosing rather keep his grief locked inside. The reaction by Spade to lock his grief points to another human truth which can be gleaned from Brigid – deception. Deception implies the non-disclosure of truth but a revealing of things that are not as if they were. Brigit comes into the picture when in that first chapter she speaks of her sister with a sense of shame that both Spade and Miles cannot help but notice and empathize with. "…the girl blushed," (pp8) a reaction that is normally a reflex action and may at times be a signal that one is genuine. Only later is the actual truth revealed that the sister was non-existent. Brigit is either a decided liar or a person living with serious illusions. This can be said of Don Quinn (DQ) in City of glass who takes on the name of a man he knows nothing about and starts on a journey of investigations still with that false identity. He is described as one who, "…can escape the obligation to think…giving him a measure of peace in the salutary emptiness within." (pp 8). Escaping from reality can underlie the deceptive stance and motivate the taking on of fictional existences. That false identity leads those around him to believe what is not actually there and, in time, he begins to live in the lie. This false sense of identity carries on with Peter Stillman who calls himself Mr. Sad, Mr. Green, and even Peter nobody' names that may actually be symbolic of his real character and fate as he later disappears. Paul Auster, the author aptly describes this identity crisis when DQ is explained to have thought about things that happened to him and concluded that nothing was real except chance. In the end, "who he was, where he came from and what he did" (pp 6) are said to be inconsequential pointing to the question of whether or not identities count in the scheme of life.

Twisted fate, deception, and authority

If chance really so has the upper hand in the grand scheme of life, what can be said about the characters that deliberately lie and abuse authority and twist justice? Such are the questions raised by Spade when he later discovers that Brigid is a liar and that the authorities are "crackpots" when they fail to come up with the truths about the death mystery. Instead, these authority figures are so bent on simply solving the mystery by answering obvious questions that they would totally pay no heed to the actual truths and realities of the case. Authority is thus exposed as ideal only in perception but in reality, it is made up of human beings with similar weaknesses as those of all the rest. Brigid displays the ideal perception of the authorities when she explains, "I was too afraid she had done something like this to go to the police," showing that there was a level of reverence given to that order. This same ideology can be seen when a total stranger DQ is given the responsibility for investigating a case he has no right to. He takes it on simply out of curiosity and this portrays the vulnerability of Peter Stillman and his wife. They are so desperate for a solution they would turn to anyone even without checking credentials.

The satirization of authority and the question of identity

Due diligence in the checking of credential as found when one seeks to engage authority can be satirized in a way in that those in actual authority seem unwilling and unable to find the truths about a case whereas a nobody like DQ is bent on discovering the real truths about a case he really has no right to. There are twisted fates that draw human beings to positions they may not be suitably qualified for. At the same time, there are those thought to be qualified for certain positions but never live up to expectation. What each person may see as the expected and how things appear to be are not always so when one gets the spectator position like the reader of the two texts would be. Everyone can be assumed to be anyone; Brigid to be a damsel in disguise and Don Quinn to be Paul Auster but only further and separated analysis of characters can reveal how people actually are as shown in both texts.


The two texts to be used for reference are City of Glass and The Maltese Falcon with an academic paper used to further help with characterization and textual analysis. Auster, P. (n.d.). The Maltese Falcon. 1st Ed. New York: Random House. Hammett, D. (n.d.). The Maltese Falcon. 1st ed. Postmodern Humanism in Contemporary Literature and Culture: Reconciling the Void. (2008). American Literature, 80(1), pp.197-197.

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