Agatha Christie World Literature Analysis
Christie is known for her crime-fiction novels, especially those that feature Poirot, introduced in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, or Miss Marple, an elderly spinster introduced in The Murder at the Vicarage (1930). Her other detectives include Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, Superintendent Battle, and Colonel John Race. Christie began writing during what has been called the golden age of crime fiction. This time period can be roughly defined as the years between World War I and World War II. It was a time of world recovery, tinged with hardship as well as a certain amount of optimism. People were anxious to forget their daily troubles, and crime-fiction novels often provided this escape. Following the publication of The Murder at the Vicarage, Christie was on her way to becoming a well-established author. At about the time of World War II, her novels became quite popular, and she firmly established her place as a leader in the genre.
Christie can be characterized as a traditional mystery writer, depending on imagination and intelligence, rather than technological marvels, to solve crimes. That is one of the reasons that she has remained popular. She was always careful to “play fair” and provide her reader with all the information necessary to solve the crime, plus enough red herrings to make this task challenging. By the time Christie died in 1976, many new scientific discoveries had revolutionized police departments around the world. While she did not ignore modern methods, she made it clear that all the scientific apparatus in the world would not solve a crime if there was not a thinking individual to work with the machinery.
One of her two most popular thinking individuals is Hercule Poirot, a fastidious and curious Belgian with a large mustache. Poirot is painted as a dandy, about whose appearance others often make jokes. Scoffers often find themselves rebuffed, however, because Poirot’s sometimes semicomical fastidiousness hides a keen mind and a nature that demands that he search for the truth in all matters. In this search, Poirot employs his “little grey cells” in order to distinguish the truth from fiction. He often accomplishes this by asking seemingly irrelevant questions. These questions, however, turn out to be relevant and often important in terms of uncovering information previously hidden.
Christie’s other well-known detective is Jane Marple, a spinster who resides in the village of St. Mary Mead. One of the characteristics that has set Miss Marple apart from other detectives is her age. She is in her seventies or eighties, but the reader should not underestimate her. Miss Marple uses her knowledge of human nature to solve crimes. In addition, Christie uses the anonymity that Miss Marple can assume. Miss Marple looks so innocent that no one could ever suspect her of having any dealings with the police. She is everyone’s old-fashioned aunt and blends in quite well with the scenery.
Several factors account for Christie’s popularity. First, her plots are well constructed. She takes the reader through a logical series of actions to an equally logical conclusion. In addition, enough red herrings are dragged across the reader’s path to ensure continued interest in the activities. Characterization is also an important factor. While Poirot and the Beresfords, especially, are occasionally parodies of themselves, they are still believable. Their eccentricities are not so outlandish as to be thought impossible. In addition, Christie has an ear for dialogue. Her characters consistently speak in a manner appropriate to their roles in the novels. Her characters also continually act in a manner consistent with roles created for them.
Christie was also interested in looking at human nature in general; thus, her plots revolve around the motivations that cause people to act in a desperate manner. These include greed, jealousy, a desire for power, and revenge. This tendency to construct crimes around common motives rather than esoteric ones enables the reader to relate easily to the characters involved.
Through the course of her career, Christie developed a particular style and stuck with it. In her novels, the reader can expect a clever plot, believable dialogue, and engaging characters. This adherence to a pattern that worked has contributed greatly to the popularity of her novels.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
First published: 1926
Type of work: Novel
In this novel, Dr. James Sheppard leads the reader through an account of the murder of...
(The entire section is 1882 words.)