Murder on the Orient Express and Strangers on a Train

Undoubtedly over the span of An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, P.D. James does the perfect portrayal of how the lead detective can impact the overall depiction of their gender within the novel. Through the eyes of Cordelia Gray we see that woman are categorized as “lowers” during this point of time. But, by Cordelia leading the charge we begin to see women to start to self identify and slowly become more independent. In comparison to Murder on the Orient Express by, Agatha Christie we see gender isn’t the natural focal point that is influenced by the male lead detective.

In contrast to Cordelia, the world famous investigator Hercule Poirot is depicted as the manliest of all men. His high intelligence and smooth talking set the standard for someone who should be respected throughout the book. Yet what dictated the divide amongst the passengers was not gender, but racism. By pitting characters from different ethnic backgrounds against each other created the setting for a perfect conflict.

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Dating back to 1934 woman have yet to be given the opportunity to be shown in a more respected light. With reference to Detective Poirot we see how the “ideal” man is depicted through the novel. His quick wit and exemplary analytical skills prove no case is too tough for him to crack. Within the first few moments of seeing Ratchett Poirot remarks, “When he passed me in the restaurant,” he said at last, “I had a curious impression. It was as though a wild animal—an animal savage, but savage! you understand—had passed me by” (Part 1 Chap.

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2). This gives the beginning insights to how above all, he is able to identify an evil person solely based on his “great judgement” as a detective. Similar to celebrities today, Detective Poirot is a character we all look to as almost a superhero. Yet, given his obvious superiority to any other character within the novel, there’s no real rift between the men and the woman.

All the passengers on the Orient Express are acting on stereotypes laid upon them. Although Mrs.Hubbard may be a shown as very talkative ditsy woman, the real fronts that were put on were of the nationality of the certain passengers. Christe utilized racism as a way to pit the passengers against each other to make the case harder to solve. With regards to Italians being excellent liers (chap 2 part 10), latinos having a bad temper (chap 1 part 6), Americans being loud and obnoxious (chap 1 part 5), and englishman being overly sensitive (Chap 3 part 7) gives way to not solely look at gender as a divide but as ethnicity as a way to create more disturbance on the train. Poirot attempts to break this racial barrier by telling the countess he doesn't belong to the United Nations, 'I belong to the world, Madame' (chap 2 part 7). But, he can’t be the divine median between all the ethnicities because of line of work, he needs to make judgements off of people, similar to how he knew Ratchet was an evil character before even speaking to him.

While polarly opposite to Murder on the Orient Express, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman is about the new age of females taking strides in attempts to break the social barriers they’ve been placed in. Having a female lead detective in the early seventies was almost entirely unheard of. Traditionally, the discrimination women have faced it’s no surprise that Cordelia Grey encounters obstacle after obstacle she has to overcome. Given that her partner Bernie has died, alone, she takes on the mysterious case of the apparent suicide victim Mark Callender, son of the highly acclaimed scientist Ronald Callender. It’s obvious Ronald bitlittles Cordelia with his words stating it is “a little disconcerting to expect a burly ex-policeman and to get you”(James 41). Setting the tone for the rest of the novel Cordelia never lets her femininity get in her way, in fact she uses it as a tool to gain information and manipulate male characters as well. By befriending Isabella and Sophie Cordelia gains their trust enough for them to expose details of how Mark’s body was found when they first discovered him hanging in his cabin. Initially being afraid of what would come next, Cordelia, the gold standard of a strong woman, gives them the support and confidence to realize although what they did may be illegal, morally they took great initiative in trying to help.

With regards to the closing portions of the book, Miss Leaming was absolutely influenced by the strength Cordelia showed Ronald Callender. After Miss leaming murdered Mr. Callender the two worked together and staged it as a suicide. By utilizing a male’s prejudice towards a woman, they essentially just played stupid and were able to out smart all the male police officers, detectives, jurors, and judge. By Cordelia simply stating, “I would like to have my gun. He just waved a hand in dismissal and said, ‘tomorrow morning, Miss Gray. Tomorrow morning’” (James 219) to the courtroom she walked out a free woman. Miss leaming as well deceived the court through Cordelia's sphere of influence and was able to gain a new found courageousness within her. Through Cordelia Greys growth as a woman, she was able to positively impact the other female characters that came into her life.

Order is something that is either denied or given to the reader by the end of a mystery novel. Delving into both Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, and An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P.D. James both in their own unique ways give or don’t give closure to the reader. Highsmith restores order socially by allowing us as the readers to see the duality between both Guy and Bruno. In essence, this leads to both of their downfalls as psychopaths and murderers to which we witness slowly eat them alive. In regards to James, gender roles are not restored through the heroic poster woman Cordelia Gray. Although she surpassed all men that tried to infringe on her investigation using her quick thinking and intelligence. The female in society is still looked down upon. Cordelia may have impacted the woman she’s come across in her investigations, but the female is still a person who is subjectified against.

The 1970’s were a very controversial time within the Women's Rights movement. When I think of Cordelia, I think of Betty, the woman behind the WWII poster “we can do it.” Although Cordelia stood as a fictional character within a fictional story the premise is a strong representation of what women are seeking. As we’re introduced to Cordelia we’re given how close she was to her partner Bernie. After his suicide he specified that he wants to leave everything, including the business to Cordelia. As the first reporting officer on the scene exemplifies his in disbelief that Cordelia will reieve the inheritance of Bernie’s legacy by stating, “You can hardly keep the Agency going on your own. It isn’t a suitable job for a woman” (James 26). This initial reaction sets the tone for how women are treated throughout the entirety of the book. By having Miss Leaming as a woman secretary and Bernie having a woman typist on staff we solely see how the gender roles are in relation to the men. As Cordelia steps out of her comfort zone attending college parties to question Mark’s old friends or overcoming the female stereotype of being overly emotionally invested into the case, she conquered them all. We’re left cheering on her every move as she ultimately comes closer to the truth behind the “alleged” suicide of Mark Callender.

As the reader we see how Cordelia has positively impacted all the women she’s come across within the novel. She gives life to a predominantly male profession, proving women are just as capable as men. Yet we’re left with the big question, what now? It’s incredible that against all odds Cordelia was able to succeed in such a manner by using her gender and intelligence, yet what happens now to the perception of women? As great as of a detective Cordelia was, going forward she’s still going have to face challenges based on her genetic makeup. Although Cordelia was able to fabricate Ronald Callender’s murder as a suicide along with Miss Leaming, she too will continue being a secretary elsewhere. At the end of the day nobody but Cordelia will truly know what analytical skills went into solving the case. Cordelia had to ultimately say to the court, “I had decided, sir, that I didn’t want to go on with the case. I hadn’t discovered anything useful and I didn’t think there was anything to discover” (James 219). Although it’s obvious to the reader Cordelia solved the case, to the public eye she just looks like another woman who tried to do a man’s job and gave up.

Within Strangers on a Train we are immediately introduced to the two main characters Bruno and Guy. At first glance, Guy Haines seems capable and evolved, per his description: “the rise of hair and the slope of his long nose gave him a look of intense purpose and somehow of forward motion” (Highsmith 9). He’s also referred to as being a “genius” multiple times (Highsmith 260,/267). A very bright architect, yet the narrator hints at his very dark interior due to his estranged relations with his separated wife Miriam. Guy’s broken state of a personality is shown early on through the schism between himself and Bruno. Guy attempts to fight the inner darkness that lies within him but consistently finds himself finding comfort in the negative of things. This is argued in his insipid choice to stay in the decrepit Hotel Montecarlo. In contrast to his profession, Guy enjoys “immerse himself in ugly, uncomfortable, undignified living” (Highsmith 56). Guy’s basic instincts leads him to satisfy himself with Bruno, Miriam, and murder. “He found himself wondering if he might have derived some primal satisfaction from it” (Highsmith 242). Virtually, Guy was subtly shown as a ticking time bomb and all he needed was someone to understand him to make him feel safe. Bruno, was the missing piece to Guy. As the reader’s we’re nearly on the edge of our seats unsure how Highsmith can restore order to the dysfunctionality of this psychological thriller.

Yet, Highsmith makes the twisted friendship of Bruno stalking Guy as a beautiful metaphorical story of long lost friends. Bruno, who is extremely wealthy and struggles with bad alcoholism too festers in the same dark emotions Guy keeps internalized. Bruno sees the great trouble Miriam causes Guy so as a friend, takes it upon himself to strangle her as a way to repay Guy for his friendship. This eventually leads to Bruno’s relentless calls, letters, telegrams, and even in person visits to Guy in order to try and convince him to murder Bruno’s father. Once the task is finally completed the two form a everlasting bond that although Guy tries to fight, deep down adores. As we close in to the ending part of the novel we see Bruno extremely intoxicated at Guy’s wedding. This gives way to Bruno falling off the boat, and drowning in the water. Guy’s attempts to save his psychopath friend failed and eventually lead him to a deep depression. As a result without his dark counterpart Guy confesses to Detective Gerard and is imprisoned. Highsmith gives us the satisfaction of knowing both Guy and Bruno, two maniacs, have met their ends and order can finally ensue.

Throughout the novels we’ve read women have been depicted in various ways. What I found astoundingly interesting is how these female characters affect the main male protagonist of the novel from differing decades. In Murder on the Orient Express I found Agatha Christie utilized both Mary Debenham and Mrs. Hubbard as central points in Detective Poirot’s investigation. While in Strangers on a Train Patricia Highsmith depicts both Anne and Miriam as the good and evil that rule over Guy’s judgement throughout the novel.

As Christie made evident in her novel, the two main women behind the planning/execution of Ratchett’s death, that encompassed the deception of Poirot, were Mary and Mrs. Hubbard. Mary is described as an attractive and interesting woman. Detective Poirot picks up on this as well and describes her as 'cool and efficient,' also somewhat uncaring. However, Mary is revered as a very passionate lady. It’s no surprise given these qualities Poirot is by far the hardest on Mary. He gives her no breaks and no apologies for his insistence on finding out information. Given Poirot’s excellent detective skills his behavior is much different with her then in comparison to the other passengers. He knows how strong she is and difficulty he’d face getting information out of her.

Given that this is the 1930’s some readers may be surprised with how strongly willed a womanly character can be, especially when she’s even giving the best male detective in the world a hard time. It’s no surprise through Poirot’s investigation with her he gets quite frustrated, especially because he feels a woman is able to mentally beat him. Yet, at first glance Mary may seem like a spinster character who posses some masculinity to her in subjectively outsmarting Poirot. Given that this is the 1930’s Mary was prone to defeat eventually, this is exposed with the second round of interrogations where she is then seen as emotional and reliant on the Colonel to defend her. Ultimately defeating the ability to have an alteration on what Poirot perceives.

Mrs. Hubbard’s main idealistic affect she attempted to have on Poirot was the act of deception. She used the cover of the “loud obnoxious American woman” in order to help play into the confusion of who truly killed Ratchett. Mrs. Hubbard is essential in the coordination and carrying out of the group murder. Her role in the murder is sharing a communicating door with Ratchett. By telling Poirot there was a strange man in her room, Mrs. Hubbard removes herself from suspicion since she emphasized she was a victim of the attack. Mrs. Hubbard's hysterical behavior makes it easy to dismiss her as a suspect. Going along with the night of the murder, Mrs. Hubbard tells Poirot that Ratchett is a monster and that she is scared of him. Mrs. Hubbard’s tactic of deceiving Poirot was to plant the idea in his head that Ratchett is a bad person. Meticulously, this supports already what Poirot was thinking when he first encountered Ratchett, adding more to the effect she has on Poirot’s thinking. Yet again, similar to Mary, women could never get away with outsmarting a male during this time. So, mrs. Hubbard’s downfall resulted from simply mistaking a detail in her story about the lock on the communicating door.

Although only taking place only two decades later, Strangers on a Train sheds light on a different perception women have on the main male protagonist. Still within the 1950’s women do not have as major of a role yet as men do. But what goes overseen is their effect on these men, Specifically, Miriam Joyce and Anne. Miriam’s internal world is never revealed, instead she is treated almost like an object. Despite her role in manipulating Guy, she is yet just a pawn in the novel. To further objectification of Miriam the author makes Bruno hunt her like an animal. Miriam is shown as helpless as the bird Bruno clutched at the amusement park, just before strangling her. Despite the fact that Miriam’s role as a person is minor, Guy’s thoughts around her rule the actions and decisions he makes during the entirety of the novel.

Similar to Bruno, Miriam acts as a feature of Guy’s personality, a part he attempts to disembody himself from. But, nonetheless still has an incessant draw towards her. Miriam's affect on him is part of guy’s tragic flaw. Guy’s encroachment toward miriam is in response to the feeling of importance she indirectly puts in him. Miriam’s power over him is so strong, his endeavors to fight with the part of himself that she represents are never enough. Given that this novel has been written in the 1950’s, the author allows Miriam to have pull over Guy, overall allowing his susceptibility to Bruno and his dark thoughts. Even though Guy had a successful life ahead of him as a star architect and the company of a loving woman, it all crashed down around him because of the evil thoughts and feelings he had toward Miriam.

Likewise Anne had a strong force over Guy but in the polar opposite direction as Miriam. While Miriam is the archetype of Guy’s tragic flaw, the anxiety of failure, Anne appears flawless. Even though Anne makes efforts to be apart of Guy’s world, her opinion is as far away from from his as Miriam’s. It’s made clear in chapter five when Anne telegram’s guy asking for communication from him, this halts the narrative, giving the readers a sense of separation. Anne’s moral purity embodies her with Gerard who is essentially the face of the law. Although Anne may not literally be the police, she represents Guy’s internal police, in trying to balance his self punishing ego self. Annes positive personality affects Guy in a way that makes him feel uncomfortable due to his own demons. This leaves him constantly distancing himself from Anne and occupying his thoughts with Miriam. To the reader, Highsmith wants us to see that Anne is associated with Guy’s inner love and optimism. Given that Miriam is his temptress, Anne can be considered as Guy’s safe space. Yet, Guy despises it, giving lead to his own downfall. Although Murder on the Orient Express and Strangers on a Train possess similar female characters that attempt to alter the main male protagonist's mind. It’s palpable in Strangers on a Train through Miriam and Anne that the 1950’s gave light to female characters who have the ability to influence.

Updated: Aug 17, 2022
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Murder on the Orient Express and Strangers on a Train. (2022, Jan 24). Retrieved from

Murder on the Orient Express and Strangers on a Train essay
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