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The image of the Maltese falcon: Reconsidering an American icon

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The image of the Maltese falcon is an American icon that has made repeated appearances in print, film and elsewhere since it was first presented in the pages of Black Mask magazine in 1929. When we return to Dashiell Hammett's text (published in novel form the following year), we find that this image actually involves a range of multiple images, the significance of which can be probed by considering a stylistic contrast between Hammett and another outstanding Black Mask author, Raymond Chandler. The contrast between Hammett and Chandler becomes especially evident in their different deployments of metaphor and metonymy. Departing from common metaphoric readings, this essay establishes the falcon's metonymic character. The point is not just to show a difference in technique between Hammett and Chandler, but also to demonstrate how Hammett's text carries cultural and political investments that entail a demystification of historical experience while disallowing the quality of redemption prized by the more romantic Chandler.

Keywords: Black Mask; Dashiell Hammett; Maltese falcon; Raymond Chandler; metaphor; metonymy

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Trent University, Canada.

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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  • The European Journal of American Culture (EJAC) is an academic, refereed journal for scholars, academics and students from many disciplines with a common involvement in the interdisciplinary study of America and American culture, drawing on a variety of approaches and encompassing the whole evolution of the country.
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