The Skull Beneath the Skin Comparative Essay

Topics: Crime fiction, Agatha Christie, Genre fiction Pages: 5 (1598 words) Published: March 17, 2012
English Extension HSC

The genre of crime fiction reflects shifting social, cultural and political conditions. Each composer is influenced by these shifting paradigms and thus incorporates them into their texts, pushing past the conventions and boundaries set in earlier eras to create new sub-genres. Daniel Chandler in An Introduction to Genre Theory, identifies this phenomenon: "genres change over time; conventions of each genre shift, new genres and sub-genres emerge and others are discontinued." Through my prescribed texts, Howard Hawks' hardboiled film The Big Sleep (1946) and P.D. James' Revenge Tragedy The Skull Beneath the Skin (1982), and related texts, Agatha Christie's classic detective story Murder on the Orient Express (1933) and Ray Lawrence's psychological film Lantana (2001), I will explore the morphing and changing of the crime fiction genre and its conventions to ((QUESTION)). This transforming nature of the genre is exemplified by comparing and contrasting each composer's representation of, firstly, the detective and the art of detection and, secondly, the changing depiction of women.

((INTRODUCTION)) Hawks' reproduced the 'mean streets' of Los Angeles in Sleep to explore Philippe Marlowe's investigation in a Nihilistic post-war setting. Pushing aside the trappings of conventional crime, Hawks employs heightened music, low-key lighting and cuts between scenes laden with shadows to reflect the process of Marlowe's investigation. This style of film noir is heightened by the objective correlative and natural imagery, as the inclement weather forebodes an ominous mood and tells the audience something sinister is to occur, as Marlowe states: "Just started this afternoon and then the rain came in". His raw wit and laconic lines can be perceived as the language of the people, as he sees the world from the perspective of the average citizen and has come to expect violence: "Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains!" Gunplay is a motif that depicts the disillusionment of Hawks' hostile 40's environment, reinforced by Social Darwinian notions. Marlowe, on the other hand, refuses to carry a gun, conveying his introspective character, and conducts himself through Hawks' narrow and cynical version of the detective code. In spite of Marlowe's insubordination and civil disobedience, he remains the moral compass. He is a hard drinking quintessential fantasy figure that delivers rough justice through Mars' ambiguous, accidental death, his life on the edge is what the average nine-to-five working male cannot have. Despite this, it is not blatantly obvious that he will tie up the loose ends as Christie's Poirot does, reflecting the rise of seed (seedy?) elements of criminal violence and greed that overtook Urban America in the 30s and 40s. In Murder, Hercule Poirot's methodical processes are in stark contrast to Marlowe's art of detection, reflecting Christie's social and cultural environment in the 1920s and 30s. Poirot's scientific protocol is extremely formulaic, as Christie even divides his investigation accordingly: "The Evidence", "The Facts", and "Poirot Sits Back and Thinks". His rigorous attention to solve the case detaches the reader from the horror of the crime, as Christie employs humour to sanitise her murders and fundamentally distract her audience from the chaos of the interwar years: "positively it is the cold storage in here!" The "closed" social circle and snow bank setting echo the orderly structure of Christie's pre-war society, however, the Golden era was marked with rising unemployment, the Great Depression and rise of European dictatorship. Alison Light argues in Forever England, Christie's detached murder story is "a 'literature of convalescence', read 'to forget', to remove the threat of violence, and acting to reassure a nation ravaged by war." By making the murder as neat and un-extraordinary as possible, Christie keeps the focus on Poirot's case. His "Moral Law", unlike Marlowe's...
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