Why Murder?





Why Murder?

A Rhetorical Analysis of P.D. James’ An Unsuitable Job For A Woman

By Nicole G. Brown

English 5001

Term Paper

Dr. Kim Devries



     Rhetoric is revealing of truth; it is this definition that I will use as the base to my analysis of P. D. James murder mystery novel, An Unsuitable Job For  A Woman.  This simple definition for rhetoric, but one that strikes the ideas I propose.  All semester, I have tried to understand the concept of rhetoric.  I have longed for it, and it has eluded me because I saw it as more mysterious than it is.  I saw it as something that I do not possess, and as something that others have.  Then, I realized that rhetoric is a transitory thing.  It belongs to messages, to communication.  I must develop my own ideas of the subject from experience and the teachings of others.  Some scholars believe it is the art of persuasion, I agree to some extent because a person uses rhetoric to sway an audience to his/her truth.  Aristotle in his text, On Rhetoric, says

Since it is evident that artistic method is concerned with pisteis and since pistis is a sort of demonstration [apodeixis] (for we most believe when we suppose something to have been demonstrated) and since rhetorical apodeixis is enthymeme (and this is, generally speaking, the strongest of the pisteis) and the enthymeme is a sort of syllogism […], it is clear that he who is best able to see from what materials, and how, a syllogism arises would also be most enthymematic—if he grasps also what sort of things enthymeme is concerned with and what differences it has from a logical syllogism; for it belongs to the same capacity both to see the true and what resembles the true, and at the same time humans have a natural disposition for the true and to a large extent hit on the truth (33-4).

I like Aristotle’s definition because I infer it to mean that a person needs to use his/her natural inquisitive mind to sort through the messages a person encounters to discover the truth of the message.  Truth is different for each individual human being and is tied to one’s condition of experience.

     In Rhetoric, persuasion and the revealing of truth are tied together because truth is subjective each person has to discover the truth for his/herself.   If a person is allowed to speak of matters that are significant to maintenance of his/her life in the public sphere of discussion, then one can use the art of persuasion with an audience that accepts his/her ability and eligibility to speak, then the persuasion definition of rhetoric holds.  What if a person is not allowed to speak? What if a person’s voice is silenced by the society in which he/she lives?  What if this person has others telling him/her what experiences, feelings, thoughts, jobs, education, relationships, and modes of fashion, are appropriate for him/her?  How does this person acknowledge the state of his/her life when someone else is dictating the state?  First, the person has to know the truth of existence, and rhetoric is the key to unlocking the door.  When viewed as an instrument for revealing the truth, rhetoric teaches a person to view the world through a critical eye; rhetoric teaches a person to question the world.  It is only through the inquisitive innate human ability that a person can view the social constraints that shape human consciousness and form human subjects.  Why examine murder mysteries, or detective fiction because the novels in this genre begin with a question, “Who dunn it?” To ask the question, “Who Dunn it?” is human nature; the suppression of the question is chaos.  Chaos is against order.  Order contains peace and justice.  Chaos is the subjugation of human beings, and this subjugation is violent. The murder mystery begins with violence, and then proceeds to discover the perpetrator of the violence, which is actually the subjugator, or the oppressor, or the dominant culture—the elite.  The murder mystery reveals this truth.

      I have always been fascinated with the murder mystery or detective fiction genre (I will use these terms “murder mystery,” and “detective fiction” interchangeability) because it is a genre that is a puzzle to be solved.  There is always the search for the murder and the reason behind the murder.  In the text Bloody Murder From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History, Julian Symons explains why many have been intrigued by detective ficition, “On the social level, then, what crime literature offered to its readers for half a century from 1890 onwards was a reassuring world in which those who tried to disturb the established order were always discovered and punished” (18).  The Murder mystery exposes the fear of the elite, the fear that their way of life will cease to exist, Symons goes on to say that “The lawlessness on the detective’s part was only superficially a contradiction of sympathy for law and order.  Behind the conscious Victorian and Edwardian adherence to a firmly fixed hierarchical society there lay a deep vein of unease about the possible violent overturn of that society, especially by Anarchist” (18).   Also within the murder mystery, there is also duality (opposites collide with each other, and the collision is creating the tension between life and death, nature and science, dominant and repressed), and there is the need to use language to reveal the truth.  When I look closer at my need to explore the murder mystery, I begin to see a duality.  There is tension between the world of chaos and the world of order.  And yet, chaos is disguised as order—the order of dominance and death.  Aristotle believes if one can recognize the components of a syllogism then one will see the chaos. 

     Chaos is the realm of the killer.  Order is the world of the detective and the victim.  The chaos can also be seen as the oppressor and the order seen as the oppressed.  The effect of chaos is the tension between the elite ruling class and the proletarian worker.  The world of the oppressor is in chaos because it is where violence reigns; it is the place where people are dehumanized, and death is worshiped.  Money and the accumulation of power are valued above the needs of one’s brother/ sister in the killer’s world of chaos.  The killer is one who identifies people as objects rather than sentient beings.  To see a person as an object denies his/her humanity, and makes it possible to exploit the workers.  The killer does not care if the victim can eat, if the victim has shelter, if the victim has life because the killer has a driving need to maintain his/her position of power that supersedes the life of the victim.  The one responsible for the murder is one to whom violence is the mode of persuasion.  Through the rhetorical devices often employed in murder mysteries, such as a closed society, the detective, the victim, and the murderer, I will explore the duality of dominance and submission; the implication this binary has on society, and I will reveal that this ideology of dominance resulted in the death of Mark Callender in P. D. James’s novel, An Unsuitable Job For A Woman.

A Closed Society    

     A closed society is where the murder occurs.  It contains a group of people that is separated from the general population such as a family group, an occupational group, or an educational group.  The purpose of these societies is to indoctrinate the worker into the culture of the bourgeoisie elite.   Louis Althusser in the essay, “Ideology and ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation),” believes that society (or ideological state apparatuses) teaches

The ‘rules’ of good behavior, i.e. the attitude that should be observed by every agent in the division of labor, according to the job he is ‘destined’ for: rules of morality, civic and professional conscience, which actually means rules of respect for the socio-technical division of labour and ultimately the rules of the order established by class domination.  They also learn to ‘speak proper French,’ to ‘handle the workers correctly, i.e. actually (for the future capitalists and their servants) to ‘order them about’ properly, i.e. (ideally) to ‘speak to them’ in the right way (103).

In detective fiction the device of a closed society is often use to reveal the explicit ways that society works to shape human consciousness into passive workers while maintaining its innocence to the participation in such a violent act as subjugation human beings for profit.  The closed society is a microcosm for the greater system of oppression working to alienate the individual, and to induce passivity to oppression in the human consciousness.  In P. D. James An Unsuitable Job for a woman, there are multiple closed societies within the story such as the Callender family, Mark’s employment with Major Markland, and the college-culture at Cambridge.   In describing the characteristics of a closed society, W. H.  Auden, in the essay “The Guilty Vicarage,” states that

It must appear to be an innocent society in a state of grace, i. e., a society where there is no need of the law, no contradiction between the aesthetic individual and the ethical universal, where murder, therefore, is the unheard-of act which precipitates a crisis (for it reveals that some member has fallen and is no longer in a state of grace).  The law becomes a reality and for a time all must live in its shadow, till the fallen one is identified.  With his arrest, innocence is restored, and the law retires forever (18).     

 I do agree that it needs to be a society with the appearance of innocence because this appearance of innocence is a distraction from the true workings of the capitalist system, which is production and accumulation at the expense of human need.  Underneath the appearance of innocence is a cauldron of repressive attitudes and actions that seep into the worker’s consciousness to subdue human will and to control him/her as one would control an animal.  I disagree with the idea that innocence is restored with the identification of the killer.  The killer is a product of the violent society.  The killer is representation of the oppression, which exists to produce and consume more, and which exploits the workers in order to maintain this system.  The process of identifying the killer is the critical lens sharpening its focus on the hierarchal duality of oppressor/oppressed.  The only way that society could be restored to innocence is to deconstruct the society of repression.  In order to change society, there first has to be recognition that something is wrong and that this wrong needs to be changed.  Murder mysteries help readers see the systems of dominance in society.  I think it is false to give the illusion that once the murder is discovered chaos ceases to be.      

      If one were to believe that society is this place of peace and harmony, then one must ask, how could such a dark and chaotic act of violence such as murder take place?  There answer is murder cannot occur in innocence.   Murder occurs in a place of chaos where there is a dominant culture over a repressed one.  I avoid the word submissive here because to me submissive means to accept total domination.  I prefer the term repressive because I infer the sense of resistance within the word, and in the chaotic world tension between a dominant and a repressed is the dynamic that sparks murder.

     Within the Callender family there is the tension between its members–father and son, father and mother.  Notice, the conflict is surrounded around the father, who in the Callender family is Sir Ronald Callender.  The tension represents the alienation of the family members from each other within the family unit.  Callender speaks of his recently deceased son, Mark as if her were distant neighbor who has passed away.  There is no passion, and no expression of emotion.  Instead Callender seems cold, and scientific.  Callender displays his alienation from Mark when he describes marks state of mind around the time of his death

My son Mark was twenty-one on the 25th April this year.  He was at Cambridge reading history at my old college and was in his final year.  Five weeks ago and without warning, he left university and took a job as a gardener with a Major Markland, who lives in a house called Summertrees outside of Duxford […].   I know little of my son’s mind (James 42). 

After being exposed as the killer by Cordelia Gray, Callender gives his cynical description of love, while revealing the true oppressive forces that operate in society when he says

Love! The most overused word in the language.  Has it any meaning except the particular sentimental connotation which you choose to give it?  What do you mean by love?  That human beings must learn to live together with a decent concern for each other’s welfare?  The law enforces that […].  Read history, Miss Gray.  See to what horrors, to what violence, hatred and repression the religion of love has led mankind.  But perhaps you prefer a more feminine, more individual definition; love as a passionate commitment to another’s personality.  Intense personal commitment always ends in jealousy and enslavement.  Love is more destructive than hate.  If you must dedicate your life to something, dedicate it to an idea ( James 199-200).

Here, James through the voice of Callender shows the reader how violence from the chaotic world penetrates and poisons the family, and alienates its members to such an extent that interpersonal relationships are not valued.  It is a “thing” and “idea” that one must embrace not the love of another human.  Paulo Freire, in his text Pedagogy of the Oppressed, describes this type of sentiment as sadistic love,

Sadistic love is a perverted love—a love of death, not of life.  One of the characteristics of the oppressor consciousness and its necrophilia view of the world is thus sadism.  As the oppressor consciousness, in order to dominate, tries to deter the drive to search, the restlessness, and the creative power which characterize life, it kills life (46). 

The ideology Callender puts forth in his “love” speech is that of oppressor/oppressed—the elite’s accumulation of material goods by exploiting and dehumanizing the workers, the people.

     The closed society of Mark’s work place is Summertrees house, the home of Major Markland, his wife and his sister, Eleanor.  Mark is the only employee of the Marklands, and they know little about him except what has become public knowledge following mark’s death.  It is not as if mark could get lost in a list of names and roll of faces that Major Markland might over look him.  No, this lack of knowledge stems from the separation of the working class from the elite.  By knowing personal information, it is difficult to dehumanize a person and see him/her as a object to exploit for the benefit of accumulating material goods.  The Marklands come from the same school of thought as Sir Ronald Callender—having is being and not having is not being.  Although an insider of his occupational society, Mark is an outsider to the Markland family society because they viewed him as belonging to the class of the “have nots,” not realizing that he is actually from the aristocracy.  There is a separation between Marks involvement with the Marklands professionally and personally.  He spent his time alone in a cottage behind Summertrees house.  

     P.D. James uses descriptions of Summertrees house, its land, and Mark’s cottage to express the lack of human connection. Mark is alienated within his work society, and yet in his cottage he begins to find an affinity for nature, for the struggle against oppression.  First, to show how the oppression seeps into the work life, P. D James has Mark’s place of employment as the location of his murder; it  is described as “an intimidatingly ugly house,”  “morbid excrescences,” “a suburban monstrosity in the middle of the countryside,” “It was a horrible room, ill-proportioned, bookless, furnished not in poor taste but in no taste at all,” “the room was sunless and cold, “thick bramble hedge, dark and impenetrable,” and “tangled tentacles of thorns”(54, 55, 61).  Second, in contrast the cottage behind Summertrees house is the last placed Mark lived, and almost has utopian connotation associated with it,  “In the short time in which he had lived here Mark Callender had created a little oasis of order and beauty out of chaos and neglect” (James 61).  In being a gardener for the Marklands, Mark becomes a child of nature (instead of the child of science like his father Sir Ronald Callender) “Old Flower beds had been discovered and surviving plants tended;[…] The fork was still in the earth, driven deep about two feet from the end of the row.  The cottage was a low, brick, building under a slate roof.  Bathed in the afternoon sunshine” (James 61).

     To further stress this idea of alienation and objectification of the human, P. D. James reveals the distance Mark experienced in the Cambridge college community.  When Cordelia Gray questions one of Mark’s closes companions, Sophie, about his life at Cambridge,

“I didn’t know Mark”

“But you were lovers! You slept with him!”

Sophie looked at her and cried out in angry pain.

“I didn’t know him! I thought I did, but I didn’t know the first thing about him” (James 105)!

Also, it is interesting to note the choice of school.  P. D. James chooses (one of the most elite schools in the world) as the place of alienation.  In my opinion, Cambridge is generally a place where the children of the aristocracy become schooled in the ways of domination.  James Berlin describes, in his text Rhetoric, Poetics, and Cultures, Refiguring College English Studies, the conservative ideology toward education, “only a small minority can achieve the realm of higher truth, and it is this group that must be trusted for leadership in politics and culture.  Education ought to be limited to this small group, a natural aristocracy” this is the culture of Cambridge that Mark lives in; it is also an alienating view that promotes the domination of the workers (35).  Colleges or educational institutions are the main means by which the dominant culture spreads its values and cultural codes.  Education is an “economic and political weapon used against the working class” (Berlin 27).  The worker cannot afford to pay for the education.  If a humanitarian offers free education to the worker, it is to train them to become skilled-labor for production; it is to transformed the worker into a non-questioning, passive subject that obeys authority.  For the elite, education is a place where they learn to dehumanize people, to see them as things. 

     School is a cold and impersonal place where bonds are not firmly made.  In a conversation Cordelia Gray has with Edward Horsfall, Mark’s tutor, we see just how distant the college society is even though Mark is from the culture of the elite. 

  “Why are you so interested in Mark Callender?”

“His father has employed me to find out why he died.  I was hoping that you might be able to help.  I mean, did he ever give you a hint that he might me unhappy, unhappy enough to kill himself?  Did he explain why he gave up college?”

“Not to me.  I never felt that I got near him.  He made a formal goodbye, thanked me for what he chose to describe as my help, and left.  I made the usual noises of regret.  We shook hands.  I was embarrassed, but not Mark.  He wasn’t, I think, a young man susceptible to embarrassment” (James 124). 

It is this cold environment that allows violence to germinate and grow in the larger society.  Don’t go near, don’t get emotionally involved.  Involvement with another human might create a humanization of the worker and the awakening that injustice exists and this injustice is the oppressor/oppressed hierarchal binary.  James Berlin states that

Injustice, then corresponds to two social conditions: ‘oppression, the institutional constraints on self-development, and domination, the institutional constraints on self-determination’ (37). Freedom from oppression involves the removal of institutional limits on engaging in learning, satisfying skills, play, and communication.  Freedom from domination means the opportunity to engage in the action and the conditions that make for action (108).

By leaving school Mark has the made the effort to free himself from the culture of the oppressor.  He is beginning to associate with the workers, and thus moves from the place of science, of national identity, of the chaotic world to the world of nature.

The Detective

     The reader’s guide in a murder mystery is the detective.  Cordelia Gray is the detective in An Unsuitable Job For A woman.  She is from the worker class; life for Cordelia Gray is a daily the struggle.  Cordelia Gray is the epitome of the outsider.  P. D. James describes the alienation that Cordelia Gray had to negotiate for survival as an orphan,

Cordelia had early learnt stoicism.  All her foster parents […] had demanded one ting of her—that she should be happy.  She had quickly learned that to show unhappiness was a risk to loss of love.  Compared with this early discipline of concealment, all subsequent deceits had been easy (26).

It is also perfect that she hasn’t any family because relationships are sticky for the detective in murder mystery.  Relationships compromise the credibility of the detective because the seeking of the question should be all consuming for the detective.  A relationship is distracting.  The world of the oppressor is chaotic because relationships are bad, that is counterintuitive to human nature

     Cordelia Gray is an outsider to each of the closed societies within the story of An Unsuitable Job For A Woman, which are the Callender family, the Marklands, and the Cambridge college community.  In the murder mystery genre

The job of the detective is to restore the state of grace in which the aesthetic and the ethical are as one.  Since the murderer who caused their disjunction is the aesthetically defiant individual, his opponent, the detective, must be either the official representative of the ethical or the exceptional individual who is himself in a state of grace. […] In either case, the detective must be the total stranger who cannot possibly be involved in the crime (21).

according to W. H. Auden.  I only agree with the fact that the detective must be a stranger from the society in which the murder occurred because the reader and the detective are revealing the truth together, and the reader cannot be the oppressor, therefore the detective cannot be the oppressor, but also has to be one from the oppressed class.  For the detective to be in a “state of grace”, or an “exceptional individual” makes the detective adhere the order of the elite which is chaos.  These terms, “state of grace” and “exceptional individual” have a hierarchal connotation to them.  I see the detective as one of the proletariat fighting against the domination of the ruling elite. 

     Cordeila Gray is one who does challenge the system because in being a detective she goes against the grain. Constantly the reader is told how a detective’s job is unfit for a woman.  The young policeman who comes to Pryde detective agency after Bernie’s suicide judges her “not yet experienced enough to hide his shock and distaste at the sight of violent death nor his disapproval that Cordelia should be so calm” (James 20).  Mavis at the pub comments on Cordelia Gray’s occupation, “You’ll be looking for a new job, I suppose?  After all, you can hardly keep the Agency going on your won.  It isn’t a suitable job for a woman” (James 25).  Cordelia Gray tells the Marklands that she is there to investigate Mark’s death, and the reply is “’And he sent you?’ Miss Markland’s voice was a compound of disbelief, amusement, and contempt” (James 57).  At Cambridge, Mark’s friends discuss a way to be rid of Cordelia Gray and her tenacious inquisitive nature,

Cordelia ease dropping on Mark’s Cambridge friends

“But if this man Sir Ronald is paying her to find out about Mark, why cannot I pay her to stop finding out?”

Then Hugo’s voice, amused, a little contemptuous:

“Darling Isabelle, when will you learn that not everyone can be bought?”

‘She can’t anyway.  I like her.”

It was Sophie speaking.  Her brother replied:

We all like her.  The question is, how do we get rid of her?”

Then for a few minutes there was a murmur of voices, the words indistinguishable, broke by Isabelle.

“It is not, I think, a suitable job for a woman.” (James 106-107)

Cordelia Gray does not let anyone discourage her from the pursuit of the truth, which makes her one of the oppressed who is actively revealing the oppressor/oppressed duality.  Then there are Bernie’s principles embraced by Cordelia Gray, “he could happily discuss the extent to which they would be justified in telling a client less than the full truth, the point at which the police ought to be brought into an enquiry, the ethics of deception or lying in the service of the truth” (James 41).  She does not serve the status quo whether client, or a repressive state apparatus such as the police; she serves the truth, and rhetoric is the revelation of the truth. 

      Cordelia Gray is affected by the existential duality of the oppressed.  She realizes she is compares oppressed, and she realized that she has internalized the oppressor’s image within her psyche.  Cordelia mediates on Bernie’s bad luck and her relation to him, “She sometimes wondered whether, in accepting his offer of a partnership in a fit of depression or of perverse masochism, she voluntarily embracing is ill-luck.  She certainly never saw herself as powerful enough to change it” (James 15).  Interesting how Cordelia doesn’t believe in her own abilities, she does not see herself a s powerful.  Power must seem to her as something untouchable and unknowable.  Why would she regard herself as being disempowered?  It is because she has the consciousness of the oppressed.  Paulo Freire describes Cordelia’s musings as fatalist, “Existential duality of the oppressed, who are at the same time themselves and the oppressor whose image they have internalized.  Accordingly, until they concretely “discover” their oppressor and in turn their own consciousness, they nearly always express fatalistic attitudes towards their situation” (47).   Paulo Freire goes on about the fatalism within the oppressed consciousness,

“it almost always is related to the power of destiny or fate or fortune—inevitable forces—or to a distorted view of God[…] the oppressed see their suffering, the fruit of exploitation, as the will of God—as if God were the creator of this “organized disorder. (48). 

 She is who is at odds with the status quo, yet she believes in “luck,” and  she views herself as somewhat powerless to change the injustice  she sees in the world.  Cordelia Gray is conflicted.

      As so often with detective fiction the story begins with death, however the initial death in An Unsuitable Job For A Woman is not a murder, but the suicide of Cordelia Gray’s mentor Bernie.  Bernie is the opposite of Cordelia.  He is old, burn-out, unlucky, and dead.  She is young, fresh, lucky, and alive.  He is the end effect of the domination of the servile classes.  P.D.  James drives home this point when she describes his hat, “Bernie’s tribly, the stained brim turned up all around, a comedian’s hat[…] a symbol of forlorn decrepitude” (16).  Bernie is also one who has internalized the culture of the oppressor, but instead of lashing out like Sir Ronald Callender, he turns the violence on himself, and yet he is resistant to the oppression.  Bernie’s acts of rebellion are:  hiring Cordelia, teaching her tools of detection, fostering her inquisitive nature, making her a partner his agency, willing all of his possession including the agency to Cordelia, and finally is suicide.

Although Bernie is resistant, he has a dark cloud that follows him and rains on his enterprise because deep down inside Bernie’s psyche he never believes that he can escape the domination.  Bernie suffers from the consciousness of the oppressed, Paulo Freire states that

The oppressed suffer from the duality which has established itself in their innermost being.  They discover that without freedom they cannot exist authentically.  Yet, Although they desire authentic existence, they fear it.  They are at one and the same time themselves and the oppressor whose consciousness they have internalized.  The conflict lies in the choice between being wholly themselves or being divided; between ejecting the oppressor within or not ejecting him; between human solidarity or alienation (33).

His anger has turned to depression.  He has internalized the repression, and turned the violence against himself.  This causes a schism in Bernie’s consciousness.  He suffers from an existential duality of wanting to be free, but fearing freedom from dominance in the same moment.  Bernie becomes a fatalistic where his bad luck is a result of “God’s Will” rather than the forces of the dominant culture exacting control, so by killing himself, he is killing the oppressor.  Bernie’s suicide is his last act of rebellion because he lives in a Christian society regards suicide as a sin, and a selfish act.  Suicide is viewed negatively in Bernie’s society because if the worker is dead by his own hand he has wasted the resources used to produce him and to maintain the mode of production for his society.  Now, the elite must use resources to inculcate a new worker into the value system of the dominant culture.  Remember the name of the game is for the worker to produce more and efficiently, and for the worker to add to the accumulated wealth and power of the elite.  Killing one’s self works against this principle.  The violent chaotic world of the oppressor has distorted Bernie’s perception to such an extent that the only means he believes he has to rebel is suicide because he is alienated from people and has a shattered consciousness.

The Victim

     A good victim is one whose murder is an effect of the chaotic world—the tension between the oppressor and the oppressed.  Auden believes that in detective fiction “the victim has to try to satisfy two contradictory requirements.  He has to involve everyone in the suspicion,, which requires that he be a bad character; and he has to make everyone feel guilty, which requires that he be a good character” (19).  Mark Callender is the perfect victim.  He has what appears to be a good character and yet his friends give a less than glowing description of him.  When Cordelia Gray inquires into his character, his lover Sophie tells her,

Mark was very private person.  I’m not sure how far any of us knew him.  He was quiet, gentle, self-contained, unambitious.  He was intelligent without being clever.  He was very kind; he cared about people, but without inflicting them with his concern. He had little self-esteem but it never seemed to worry him (96). 

 In this small passage, P.D. James shows us the duality in character of Mark that Auden describes.  It also makes the reader wonder why, Sophie, his lover gives a response that is less than sparkling in regards to Mark’s character.  It makes him seem nice, dull; he is a person with something to hide.  This section of the text casts suspicion on Sophie while showing Mark in both a good and bad light; it creates tension. 

     Another example of the duality present in the character of the victim is shown with Cordelia Gray’s conversation about Mark’s apparent suicide with the Marklands,

Miss Markland said with a sudden fierceness:

“He was drop-out.  He dropped out of university, apparently he dropped out of his family obligations, finally he dropped out of life.  Literally.”

Her sister-in-law gave a little bleat of protest.

“oh, Eleanor, is that quite fair? He worked really well here.  I liked the boy.  I don’t think—“

“I don’t deny that he earned his money.  That doesn’t alter the fact that he was neither bred nor educated to be a jobbing gardener.  He was, therefore, a drop-out.  I don’t know the reason and I have no interest in discovering it” (58).

First, this passage makes Eleanor Markland come off as suspicious to the tenth degree.  The questions that arise in the reader are Why is she so angry, and Why does she degrade Mark?  The use of “bred” and “educated” refers directly to the ways in which the ruling class enforces its culture using ideological state apparatuses of the family and the educational institutions.  These words “bred and “educated” also express Althusser’s explanation of labor-power, he states that

Labour-power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order, i.e. a reproduction of submission to the ruling ideology for the workers, and a reproduction of the ability to manipulate the ruling ideology correctly for the agents of exploitation and repression, so that they too, will provide for the domination of the ruling class (104).

Marks is one of the ruling class, and yet he has disassociated (dropped-out) from his class to become a member of the proletariat—a gardener.  He is a threat to the status quo.  Mark has consciously left his class to be with workers, this is an aggressive act that shakes the fabric of his various closed societies.  His resistant behavior could be seen as a motive for his murder. He has moved from the scientific chaotic world of the oppressor to the natural world, which is the world of the oppressed.  P.D. James is revealing the oppressor/oppressed binary with the Eleanor Markland’s description of Mark and the hostility society has for those who cross the domination line.


The Murderer

     Sir Ronald Callender is the murderer, and the murderer is the oppressor and the oppressed at the same time.  The person from the repressed class, such as Sir Ronald Callender,  who suffers from the identification with the oppressor aspires to elite status, and needs to accumulate “things” the ruling elite deems valuable.  He came from the working class, and through hard work as a scientist he gains success in the form of fame, money, a Knighthood, and a wife from the aristocratic class.  We are also made aware of how ingrained the dominant culture is in Sir Ronald Callender, when two of Mark’s Cambridge friends, Hugo and Davie, give a scathing description of his personal belief system,

By fascist Davie means that Ronald Callender holds certain untendable opinions.  For example, that all men may not be created equal, that universal suffrage may not necessarily add to the general happiness of mankind, that the tyrannies of the left aren’t noticeably more liberal or supportable then the tyrannies of the right, that black men killing men is small improvement on white men killing black men in so far as the victims are concerned and that capitalism may not be responsible for all the ills that flesh is heir to from drug addiction to poor syntax (James 93-4).

With this passage, P.D. James is showing the oppressor’s consciousness.  Possession is the killer’s driving force.  For the murderer “having” is everything.  The killer has internalized the culture of the elite to such an extent that when he breaches the barrier between oppressed and oppressed, he is even more ruthless in his means of adherence to the rules and in his dominance over those below him.  The murderer suffers from an existential crisis because he despises himself for not truly being in the ruling class; it is self-defecation that makes the murderer kill his victim in order to maintain and to obtain possessions.  Freire describes oppressor’s motivation in this way

Once a situation of violence and oppression has been established, it engenders and entire way of life and behavior for those caught up in it—oppressors and oppressed alike.  Both are submerged in this situation, and both bear the marks of oppression. […]  Analysis of the existential situations of oppression reveals that their inception lay in an act of violence—initiated by those with power.  This violence, as a process, is perpetuated from generation to generation of oppressors, who become its heirs and are shaped in its climate.  This climate creates in the oppressor a strongly possessive consciousness—possessive of the world and of men (44).

The murder uses the tool of violence to subdue and repress others for his/her gain. 

     The murder’s world on the surface appears ordered, but in its subterranean vaults lays its true chaotic nature–death. Dorothy Sayers in her essay, “Aristotle on Detective Fiction,” states “For the more the villain resembles an ordinary man, the more shall we feel pity and horror at his crime and the greater will be our surprise at his detection,” meaning the killer should not be overtly evil, bad, or negative (33).  Sir Ronald Callender is the “villain” whose normalness puts him above suspicion.  It seems whenever there is a murderer in our mist, we hear those in direct contact with the murderer say, “he seemed so normal,” “he was just a regular guy,” “he never stood out and went about his business.”  Cordelia Gray’s conversation with, Hugo, one of Mark’s Cambridge friends explicitly (P. D. James does all but write Ronald Callender is the killer) hints at this truth about Sir Ronald Callender that all his normalness may be a disguise for psychopathic self,

Look Cordelia, you can’t possibly suspect Ronald Callender of having a hand in his son’s death!  Be logical.  You accept, I suppose, that a rational murderer hopes not to be found out.  You admit, no doubt, that Ronald Callender, although a disagreeable bastard, is a rational being.  Mark is dead and his body cremated.  No one except you has mentioned murder.  Then Sir Ronald employs you to stir things up.  Why should he if he’s got something to hide?  He doesn’t even need to divert suspicion; there has been no suspicion, there is not suspicion (128).

After this revealing piece of the text, the reader has no other choice, but to look at Sir Ronald Callender.  It is as if P. D. James has drawn a picture of Ronald Callender and written “MURDERER” in big, bold, capital letters.  It is also a slight to Cordelia Gray by questioning her intelligence and thus her social class.  Hugo is telling Cordelia that she is illogical to think that Sir Ronald Callender (the oppressor) would use violence against his own child.  Hugo trying to persuade Cordelia Gray that her ideas are incorrect is reinforcing the oppression in society.  He is denying the condition of her experience by denying her logic, and by telling her she should not be suspicious of Sir Ronald Callender. 

     The identification of Sir Ronald Callender does not return the world to a peaceful, natural existence.  Instead, his discovery and eventual death continues the cycle of oppression because he is being punished for being one of the oppressed to cross the chasm between the proletarian and the ruling elite.  In her book, Detective Novel of Manners Hedonism, Morality, and the Life of Reason, Hanna Charney states that the “big reveal” at the end of a murder mystery does not restore society to innocence because the toxin of murderer reveals the truth of the hierarchal duality of oppressor/oppressed,

as in a given society in detective fiction, order is restored at the end.  But even as the sea sends in a salubrious wind and the city can open itself once more to its customary life in health, things are no longer what they seemed at the beginning.  The microbe of the plague may be hidden, but it has been shown to exist and will reappear (91). 

I do think that it is order that is restored the order of the chaotic world.  Oppression does not stop because Sir Ronald Callender has been discovered as the killer.  He is a product of a society that allows the dehumanization of people for the accumulation of materials; he is the product of “having.”  Cordelia exposes the reason Sir Ronald Callender murdered Mark, “Because he discovered that your wife wasn’t his mother, that the money left to her and to him by his grandfather had come by fraud. […] I f the truth came out, that would be the end of their promised grant.  The future of your laboratory was at stake” (James 196).  When Sir Ronald Callender remarks in such a flippant manner as to reason for Mark’s death, his worship of elite’s value system (even if it leads to destruction and death) for material gain is clearly outlined,

 Mark’s death was necessary and unlike most deaths, it served a purpose. […] And don’t say that what I’m doing here isn’t worth one single human life.  Spare me the hypocrisy.  You know and you’re incapable of understanding the value of what I am doing here.  What difference will Mark’s death make to you (James 198-9). 

This passage shows the coldness with which Sir Ronald Callender regards all human life.  It serves to be exploited. 


     P.D. James’ mystery novel, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, reveals the oppressor/duality caused my the capitalist mode of production.  It is this oppressive force that causes the death of Mark Callender.  We saw how these ideas are embedded in the device of detective fiction such as a closed society, the detective, the victim, and the murder.  An in each one of these sections the main focus was Sir Ronald Callender, the killer.  Sir Ronald Callender suffers from the consciousness of the oppressed which leads to the existential crisis of being oppressor and oppressed at the same time.  This duality caused him to murder, Mark Callender, his son for the accumulation of material goods.  This type of behavior is what Freire calls a submersion in reality because “the oppressed cannot perceive clearly the order which serves the interest of the oppressors whose image they have internalized.  Chaffing under the restrictions of this order, they often manifest a type of horizontal violence, striking out at their own comrades (48).  The murder mystery genre allows the reader to explore the issue of social injustice in the very nature of its subject—violence.  Violence is a result of the chaotic world where domination is the social order.  Gavin Lambert in his essay, “Dangerous Edge,” says the reason he reads detective fiction is because “they promised and warned of a particular world—violent, mysterious, conflicted.  […] It begins with the discovery of a country in which the dominant reality is criminal.  […]  It uncovers impulses at war within the self.  It betrays fear of social change and fear of existing order” (47).  The reason I read mystery has changed.  At first it was to escape into a puzzle, but as I have become acquainted with rhetoric my reason for reading has changed.  I read the mystery novel because I can question.  I believe that murder mysteries reveal the truth about the dominance with in the greater society in revealing the identity of the killer within their stories. 


Works Cited


Althusser, Louis.  “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (notes towards and

     Investigation).”  CSU Stanislaus blackboard.


Aristotle. On Rhetoric A Theory of Civic Discourse.  Trans. George A. Kennedy.  Oxford: Oxford University

     Press, 2007.

Auden, W. H.  “The Guilty Vicarage.”  Detective Fiction a Collection of Critical Essays.  Ed. Robin Winks.

     Englewood: Prentice-Hall, 1980.

Berlin, James.  Rhetoric, Poetics, and Culture Refiguring College English Studies.  West Lafayette: Parlor

     Press, 2003.

Charney, Hanna.  The Detective Novel of Manners Hedonism, morality, and the Life of Reason.

      London: Associated University Presses, 1981.

Freire, Paulo.  Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  New York: Continuum, 1970.

Lambert, Gavin.  “The Dangerous Edge.”  Detective Fiction a Collection of Critical Essays.  Ed. Robin

      Winks.  Englewood: Prentice-Hall, 1980.

Sayers, Dorothy.  “Aristotle on Detective Fiction.”  Detective Fiction a Collection of Critical Essays.  Ed. 

      Robin Winks.  Englewood: Prentice-Hall, 1980.

Symons, Julian.  Bloody Murder From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History.  London: Faber

     and Faber, 1972.





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