Deathtrap Analysis
by Ira Levin

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Deathtrap Analysis

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

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Even though thrillers have enjoyed continued popularity on the high school stage, Deathtrap was not originally intended for young people because it uses a homosexual affair between a husband and his student as the motive for murder. Nevertheless, it has become popular among older teenagers. The topic of homosexuality is no longer taboo for high school audiences. As society has become more accepting of various sexual orientations and as the incidence of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) among teenagers has increased, homosexuality has emerged as a legitimate topic in sexual education courses and teen literature. Furthermore, the sexual issues in Deathtrap are subtle. There is no physical intimacy on stage. Indeed, even though Sidney and Clifford laugh that they have attacked each other all over the house, they never so much as embrace in view of the audience.

Levin has devised one of the most clever plot constructions ever incorporated into a thriller. In this story, the fictional world of the characters becomes the real world of two playwrights discussing the fictional world of a play that is based upon their own lives. This ingenious circular construction presents a “real” murder mystery within the context of writing a “fictional” murder mystery. It provides laughter, suspense, and surprise, delivering five murders among only three characters. Levin manipulates the traditional form of the thriller, forcing the audience to question what is real. The audience is deliberately and delightfully deceived. At first, viewers believe that they are witnessing the plans for and murder of Clifford. Suddenly, Clifford is alive and murdering Sidney. The audience discovers the deception when Myra dies of a heart attack because neither the attacks on Clifford nor the one on Sidney were “real”; they were staged in order to kill Myra.

This deception continues as the characters discuss writing a play about the murder. The audience members now believe that they are watching the play that those characters will write. Sidney will not allow that play to be written, however, so the audience is again off balance. The deception is deepened when Helga ten Dorp seems to interpret her psychic vibrations...

(The entire section is 537 words.)