The Stuff That Dreams are Made Of: The Real, the Unreal, and the Maltese Falcon

At the end of the 1941 John Huston film The Maltese Falcon, based on the Dashiell Hammett novel, Sergeant Tom Polhaus asks Sam Spade about the heavy, black statuette of a falcon that was the cause of all the mystery and murder.

“Heavy,” he says. “What is it?”

Our hard boiled detective, Sam Spade, replies, “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.”

maltese-falcon-what-is-it

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Writing Assignment: Reading as a Detective

Background: After an introduction to literature, poetry, and the evolving genre of romance, we began following the development of mystery from the folktale “Three Princes of Seredip” and Voltaire’s Zadig, or the Book of Fate through Edgar Allan Poe’s crystallization of the detective story in his tales of rationcination, exemplified by “The Purloined Letter.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle further developed and popularized detective fiction in his Sherlock Holmes stories, such as “A Scandal in Bohemia.” We saw the gentleman detective turn into tough, morally complex character in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, then lost ourselves in the many twists of Ira Levin’s play Deathtrap. Throughout this unit, we have explored the connection between detective work and close reading, namely looking for clues and constructing meaning from those clues. Now it’s your turn to practice a bit of detective work on the mystery of your choice.

Goal: To interpret a mystery using techniques of close reading, exploring social issues of morality, class, gender, sexuality, and so on.

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