Ambiguity in After the First Death
Hugh Agee's letter to Robert Cormier
In this short letter, Hugh Agee, an instructor at the University of Georgia, shares an article he wrote that explores student responses to After the First Death, specifically their questions regarding the narrative perspective. Agee shares with Robert Cormier his enjoyment of teaching the author's work, and his students' feelings that Cormier is "a major writer of Young Adult literature."
"The Reader and the Text: Transaction and Reaction in Cormier's After the First Death"
In this scholarly article, written by Hugh Agee and Eugenia Vazey, the authors explore the narrative ambiguity of After the First Death through the lens of student responses. Drawing from writing produced by his college class of English education majors, Agee and his co-author draw upon Louise Rosenblatt's transactional theory, and address the personal dimension of the literary transactional experience. Specifically, they contrast the author's intention with the reader's personal response and interpretation. That is to say, where two interpretations are possible, what should hold sway - the author's plan or the reader's feelings? Agee's conclusion - the best interpretation is that based on textual evidence.
Robert Cormier's draft response to Hugh Agee
In this drafted letter, Robert Cormier responds to Agee's correspondence. He opens by sharing how impressed he is with the students' insights and interpretations. In a section that is largely penciled out and re-written, Cormier shares his disappointment in the portrayal of the general - how he wished he had been better able to maintain more ambiguity until the end of the piece. He continues by mentioning that he had not anticipated such close analysis, but instead, hoped readers would be moved emotionally.
Maxine Shosto's letter to Robert Cormier
Maxine Shosto was a high school student in England when she wrote this one-page, handwritten letter. She explains that she had been "set to write an essay" and then included several interview and plot questions concerning After the First Death.
Robert Cormier's draft response to Maxine Shosto
Robert Cormier's hand revised draft of his letter to Maxine Shosto addresses her questions regarding After the First Death. In particular, he talks about the ambiguity in the book and says that is because life is ambiguous. He had mislaid the letter and was unable to get the reply back to her in time for her school report. The heavy pencil edits show his concern with precise language.
Kristy Luzar's letter to Robert Cormier
In Kristy Luzar's typed but very faded letter to Robert Cormier dated 15 May 1989 she shares her engagement with the novel, After the First Death, and asks him key questions about the characters and plot structure of the novel. This letter shares text with Cindy Ryal's letter to Robert Cormier.
In his 2001 master's thesis, "Interactive reading models and reader response criticism: Tracing parallels between reading theories" Samuel D. Miller of Iowa State University, takes up the tension between what underlay the disparate views of Cormier and Agee. Throughout his correspondence, Cormier consistently advocates for readers having their own experience with text versus a model that is anchored in the author's intentions.