And Then There Was None Written Essays

Agatha Christie examines the psychology of the island’s guests, as each deteriorates under the pressure of guilt and grave danger. At first, the guests hide their guilt not only from others but also from themselves. This is possible because their crimes are perceived as accidental and unintentional; a number are also passive-aggressive. Vera Claythorne, General MacArthur, Mr. Blore, Emily Brent, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, and Philip Lombard all deny any active agency in the deaths they are said to have caused. Instead, each could be said to have betrayed a trust by failing to act. For instance, Vera failed to stop the boy she looked after from swimming too far from shore; Mr. and Mrs. Rogers withheld needed medication; Emily Brent failed to demonstrate compassion for her maidservant; Mr. Blore and General Macarthur hid their crime under the rubric of duty.

While these characters maintain a show of innocence, however, their guilt emerges less consciously, through dreams or memories that undermine their self-assurance and certainty. Thoughts of their victims trouble a number of the guests. Emily feels haunted by the spirit of her servant; for Vera, the smell of the sea seems to summon the spirit of the drowned boy. These episodes point to the way in which guilt, even if denied by the rational faculties, can make its presence felt in other ways. Vera is tormented by her unbidden fantasies and memories to such an extent that she is no longer in her right mind by novel’s end. She readily cooperates with the suggestion of the nursery rhyme, hanging herself on the noose the judge has provided.

Related to the psychology of the guilty is the theme of exposure. The isolated island mansion is modern, flooded with light, indicating a venue in which all will be revealed. Each guest exposes a side far from rational and decent. Bestial metaphors suggest that, under duress, each has reverted to a primitive law of the jungle, participating in a war of all against all. This disturbing Darwinist vision is first articulated by Philip Lombard as a justification for his crime, but as the characters are reduced to their instincts for...

(The entire section is 871 words.)

  • 1

    What is genre fiction? How does it differ from other types of fiction?

    Genre fiction is any novel or story that uses fantastical characters and stories, or suspenseful and exciting plots to entertain readers. Crime, detective, superhero, horror, science fiction, and romance novels are all examples of genre fiction. Literary fiction, according to some critics, often elevates style, character development, and intellectual ideas over suspenseful plots or entertainment value. Christie’s genre novels often bridge the gap between literary fiction and genre fiction by using serious literary themes and ingeniously creative plots and characters.

  • 2

    Discuss Mr. Justice Wargrave’s representation and his symbolism in the novel.

    Mr. Justice Wargrave represents the supremacy of logical order and reason. While several of the characters, including Miss Brent and Vera Claythorne, propose supernatural answers to the mystery of the Indian Island murders, Mr. Justice Wargrave always insists that no one be proved guilty or innocent without sufficient and undeniable proof. The fact that Wargrave is the murderer does not undermine this symbolic logical order. As Wargrave insists, his acts of murder on the Island are not committed out of a desire for chaos but, instead, out of a desire to restore justice to the world.

  • 3

    Who is the novel's protagonist?

    And Then There Were None differs from other novels in the detective genre because it does not provide a clear protagonist. Each of the characters is a murderer responsible for an act of evil and therefore deserving in some way of murder. In this way, the reader has no character to root for but, instead, is caught up in the drama of how justice will be handed out and who is ultimately responsible for the deliverance of this justice.

  • 4

    How do the murders on Indian Island play with ideas of class consciousness?

    The murderer, Wargrave, insists in the closing chapter that the murders were committed when opportunity presented itself. However, for example, the first two murders also reflect a major theme of the novel: the leveling of class distinctions. The first two murdered victims are studies in opposites: Marston is a rich, carefree playboy while Mrs. Rogers is a domestic servant. Their murders represent the indiscriminate way in which the killer approaches the task of handing out justice.

  • 5

    Do you believe that the novel offers catharsis for the reader? Explain.

    And Then There Were None offers a partial catharsis for readers, though it is not complete. By revealing the identity of the killer in the final chapter, Christie allows the reader to discover who carried out the murders, how they were committed, and the motivations behind each one. The killer admits that the murders were motivated by an unexplainable compulsion to kill, but that they were planned and carried out methodically with the ultimate goal being justice. Psychologically, the reader is left feeling as though a certain sense of order has been restored to the world. However, a sense of unease must remain since the final act of justice is not one carried out by society but by the killer’s own hand. The reader is reminded that the reality of evil still exists in the world, often beyond the reach of institutional justice.

  • 6

    Discuss the use of violence in the novel.

    Christie’s novels have been called “Murders of Manners” for the benign ways in which her victims often come to their end. This is true of And Then There Were None in several respects. Several of the novel’s victims are killed with poison, a method of death that is portrayed as quick and relatively painless. The other deaths are all portrayed as quick endings; the victim does not suspect that they are being attacked and are dead before they realize what is happening. Though Christie does make use of violence, she does not depict torture, gore, or suffering. Her depictions of violence shock but do not offend.

  • 7

    Discuss the symbolism of weather in And Then There Were None.

    Christie uses the weather to symbolize the disorder of Indian Island and the depravity of human nature. The beginning chapters depict a hot and humid summer day. It causes a physical discomfort that is already felt internally by each of the novel’s characters. As the murders begin, the weather gradually worsens until a tumultuous storm breaks out as General Macarthur’s body is found. This breaking of the storm symbolizes the chaos into which the Island’s visitors have also descended.

  • 8

    Why do you believe Christie’s novels have been so popular, selling more copies of any book except the Bible?

    Christie’s novels are popular not just because they are masterfully plotted and suspenseful, but also because they are prime examples of the psychology of the murder mystery genre. Christie’s novels explore the common themes of imposed morality and of the undercurrents of human behavior. These novels, therefore, connect with readers at the base level of human emotion and behavior. The reader also knows that, in the end, everything will be explained and the upturned order of the fictional world will be restored, which becomes catharsis through reading.

  • 9

    Discuss the symbolism of food in the novel.

    Each character arrives at the Island expecting a certain level of comfort and service. At the beginning, the characters are treated to fine food, drink, and service by the Rogers. However, as the murders begin, the characters become afraid to eat and drink because of the possibility of poisoning and because they lack the ability to care for themselves or for one another. This use of food and civility symbolizes the spiraling depravity of each character. By the end of the novel, each character recognizes that they have become animalistic in their desires to survive. They survive only on the bare essentials and eventually turn on each other and themselves in completion of the final acts of violence.

  • 10

    What is the meaning of suicide in the novel?

    Christie purposefully uses suicide as the last two killings of the Indian Island murder spree. For Christie, suicide was the ultimate act of murder, since it shows that a person has become depraved enough to take their own life. While murder is an extraordinary crime, suicide is worse because it precludes resolution through justice. It is an act of complete insanity. Vera Claythorne’s murder, thus, is the culmination of the insanity of Indian Island. Wargrave’s own suicide is verification that he was a truly depraved and insane mind.

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