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Cordelia Gray’s Transformation, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 1313

Essay

In “An Unsuitable Job for a Woman”, P.D. James introduces readers to Cornelia Dray, a young woman who is obliged to undertake a profession that most women do not think about, namely that of a private investigator, in order to support herself after the death of her partner and mentor, Bernie Pryde. Even though Bernie’s gesture of leaving Cordelia the agency may seem extravagant, it may suggest that Bernie tried to push her to chose this profession, after having recognized in her a soul akin to his own: she was a practical, brave and enduring women, whose years of childhood neglect, intelligence and solid perception of justice made her perfect for the job, despite being a young female. The present paper thus argues that, in becoming a detective, Cordelia must complete four formational stages, namely training, proving her attributes, overcoming prejudice, and defining her standards of justice.

When she was hired by Bernie Pryde, Cordelia did not consider a detective career but was merely interested in a secretarial job. However, she was pushed towards this career by her employer, who seems to have recognized in her qualities that any good detective had. For this reason, he begins training her and even proposes her a partnership, eager to see her following on his footsteps, similarly to a father. In addition, Bernie leaves her everything when he decides to end his life. Her most significant inherited items are the company itself, and the gun that Bernie taught her to use.  The narrator explains that, “It had been his most prized possession” (11). Cordelia knows the value of the weapon and therefore, she “slipped it, still shrouded, into the depths of her shoulder-bag. …. Bernie had meant her to have the gun and she wasn’t going to give it up easily” (11). The gun is more than a simple tool of her new job, it is a graduation present from her teacher, and in the same time, it is a symbol of masculine power that certifies her right to enter a world for which she may not be suited, but which certainly attracts her. Therefore, receiving the gun is a clear proof that her apprenticeship is over, and that she became a detective.

Even though it seems rather improbable, considering her lack of experience, and her gender, her first case comes very quickly. In the end, her lack of visible qualities is the very reason for which she was chosen to investigate why Mark Callender’s committed suicide. Her first assignment is very important, because it would demonstrate her capacities and would confirm her debut into the world of private investigation. Having completed training, Cordelia’s first solo case has the role and the importance of an initiation ritual. Her past experiences, and her qualities will soon prove why Bernie thought that she would be fit for the job. Cordelia’s father abandoned her, thus forcing her to survive on her own, without the protection offered by a loving family. She learned quickly to hide her real feelings and, as it is revealed in the novel,   “compared with this early discipline of concealment, all subsequent deceits had been easy” (26).   In addition to deceit, Cordelia also has very sharp survival instincts with help her in times of hardship: “And then she felt a saving anger… She had always been a survivor”(180).  Therefore, necessity has taught Cordelia early in her life to take care of herself by deceiving the others and acting on instinct in order to survive.  These two attributes are extremely useful for a detective, who must constantly hide and deceive others, and is sometimes forced to defend or to think quickly.  These skills, which to older detectives come with experience, Cordelia already possesses, but she also must learn to rely on them, and to use them effectively in extreme situations. Being aware of her qualities and her weaknesses is a crucial part of being a detective.

Her greatest weaknesses, at least in the eyes of the society, are her youth and her gender. Being young and being a woman are real obstacles in assuming the new identity. Even though she considers herself a detective, Cordelia has a hard time convincing the others, who find it difficult to believe in her capacities and to accept her new identity. The reaction of the women at the pub is edificatory in this respect. They clearly state their opinion that, being a woman, she must give up the Agency: “After all, you can hardly keep the Agency going on your own. It isn’t a suitable job for a woman”.  Cordelia therefore cannot be a detective until she convinces the others that she truly is. Moreover, she must convince herself of the fact, which she does through an entire psychological process that allows her to gain the confidence she needs: “Now, in imagination, she consulted her mother. It was just as she expected: her mother thought it an entirely suitable job for a woman” (25) In fact, since Cordelia never knew her mother, it is rather impossible to know what her mother’s opinion would be on the topic. However, by assuming what her mother would think, she convinces herself to accept this role, and that she is right to pursue this career. Being a woman, Cordelia needs a role model’s advice and also, she needs the experience of an older woman. Because she had always been deprived of it, Cordelia ‘invents’ an ideal mother who could guide her and give her advice.

After having confidently assumed her new identity in front of the others and for herself despite all prejudice, Cordelia manages to discover the truth behind Mark’s death, against all odds. Her employer did not expect her to succeed, but he ignored her strong motivation to demonstrate the world that a woman is indeed suitable for this job, and her need to find a path in life. Her last test is the murder of Sir Callender by his mistress, which gives Cordelia the possibility to choose between two courses of action, namely turning Mrs. Leaming in, or protecting her.  She chooses the latter, thus committing a crime herself. However, in doing so, she actually serves justice, even though she acts against the law. Law and justice are not always the same and this is what Cordelia learns in the end. However, Cordelia refuses to acknowledge her sense of justice as the reason for her help. “’I thought you might have acted in the service of justice or some such abstraction. ‘I wasn’t thinking about any abstraction. I was thinking about a person’” (226). From this exchange, it becomes clear that Cordelia’s feelings guided her reaction.  This may be interpreted as typically feminine behavior, and might be perceived as a weakness, because she left subjectivity guide her and put herself in danger of being arrested. However, regardless of her true reasons, Cordelia’s decision was just and served as her last initiatory test: Cordelia’s skills were tested by the police and she managed to get away with her deed. In addition, in choosing to situate herself not against the law but rather, parallel to it marks her decision to remain an outsider, a person who serves justice but it is not part of the justice system. Cordelia remains independent and chooses to think for herself and follow her own rules, instead of submitted to the laws of others.

As the present paper tried to show, Cornelia’s becoming a detective implied four steps, namely training, proving her qualities, fighting against prejudice and defining her own sense of justice. Each of these steps proved her that she was indeed suited for the job and that Bernie’s decision to guide her towards this career was justified. In addition, these steps constitute an initiatory process at the end of which, Cordelia truly assumes her new role of private investigator.

Works Cited

James, P.D.  An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. New York: Touchstone. 2012.

 

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