I am struggling to write a term paper. My initial idea is to apply both Romanticism and Reader Response criticism to Agatha Christie's Death Comes as the End. I'm not sure what to write about or...

I am struggling to write a term paper. My initial idea is to apply both Romanticism and Reader Response criticism to Agatha Christie's Death Comes as the End. I'm not sure what to write about or what kinds of Romantic themes apply to the novel.

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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It sounds as if your assignment involves what is known as a "theory-application" paper. Professors assign these papers to see whether you understand literary theories by having you apply those theories to specific literary works. Another motive is that this sort of paper shows how well you have understood two different types of reading, one of theoretical material and one of fiction. 

While using reader-response theory is a good idea, Romanticism doesn't really fit. Romanticism was a literary movement of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, while Agatha Christie is a twentieth-century novelist. Romanticism really has nothing to do with the popular use of the word "romance" (in the sense of a sexual or emotional relationship); although there are sexual relationships in the novel, Christie's work is cerebral, emphasizing the suspense involved in finding out who did the murders rather than trying to emotionally involve the reader in the romantic relationships of the characters.

For your outline, you might start with a short description of the setting of Death Comes as the End in ancient Egypt. Next, you should state what two literary theories and theorists you intend to apply to it.

Because of its nature as an historical novel, Robert Jauss might be a good reader-response theorist, as his work would enable you to talk about the two simultaneous historical horizons of ancient Egypt, in which the novgel is set, and World War II, during which it was written. As Christie was writing, Allied and Axis powers were fighting in Egypt. 

Because of this complexity of the historical context, a second good theoretical approach might be New Historicism or Postcolonialism, in which you could look at how Christie's work reflects the ideology of her own period and examine the notion of Orientalism. 

A typical structure for your paper would be:

  • Introduction: stating that you will be applying 2 literary theories to Death Comes at the End
  • Brief discussion of the literary text
  • Discussion of first literary theory and application of it to text
  • Discussion of second literary theory and application of it to text
  • Conclusion explaining what applying these theories to Death Comes at the End has shown us about the respective strengths and weaknesses of the literary theories
Sources:

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