Cognitive-linguistic manipulation and persuasion in Agatha Christie

Alexander, Marc Gabriel (2006) Cognitive-linguistic manipulation and persuasion in Agatha Christie. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis presents some of the many methods which Agatha Christie uses to manipulate readers away from and towards the eventual resolutions of her fiction. It draws on a variety of linguistic, psychological, narratological and stylistic models to describe the specific techniques employed by Christie to manipulate and distract her readers.

The research undertaken employs practical studies in schemata, scenario-dependence, depth of cognitive processing, rhetorical-structural persuasion, unreliable narration, social cognition theories of character attribution, and ideas from the study of mind style to analyse manipulation in some of Christie’s most notable works. These works include the novels Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Death in the Clouds, Cards on the Table and The ABC Murders, in addition to lesser-known short stories from The Thirteen Problems and Poirot Investigates.

More specifically, following the introduction, the analyses in Chapter 2 operate through models of the psychological processing of texts and the way that linguistic indicators are interpreted by readers. ‘Red herrings’ and ‘buried clues’ are defined and examined using cognitive theories of schemata (information networks), scenario-dependence and a reader’s depth of processing. This is followed by Chapter 3, a rhetorical and structural analysis of persuasive practices within an extract of Christie’s fiction, where her detective Hercule Poirot attempts to convince both the assembled characters and the novel’s reader of the necessary truth of the solution he is presenting. In this chapter I introduce my own adaptation of Rhetorical Structure Theory designed for analyses of long extracts of a narrative text is also introduced. Chapter 4 looks at narratological and cognitive methods of describing character and narrator unreliability and ambiguity, through studies of an unreliable narrator, the nature of some witnesses’ minds within different novels, and the presentation of the ambiguous thoughts of an important suspect using techniques taken from the study of mind style.

The thesis aims primarily to describe and illustrate in a systematic manner a selection of the many different ways in which Christie manipulates readers, and points the way to other techniques of this sort. The breadth of the frameworks employed is intended to emphasise the range of Christie’s techniques, and to demonstrate that detective fiction contains many uses of complex manipulation which would bear further study.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: stylistics, cognitive stylistics, Agatha Christie, detective fiction, rhetorical structure
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > English Language and Linguistics
Supervisor's Name: Emmott, Dr. Catherine
Date of Award: 2006
Depositing User: Dr Marc Alexander
Unique ID: glathesis:2006-3022
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 07 Feb 2012
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 14:02

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