The central conflict of The Moonstone involves the disappearance of a Diamond, and the subsequent attempts to solve this mystery. The truth of the situation is very important. Several times, the story’s plot takes twists and turns, with an apparent truth turning out to be false. For example, Superintendent Seegrave first suspects Penelope; later Sergeant Cuff suspects Rachel (and Rosanna), and then Rachel believes (she saw with her own eyes) Franklin taking the Diamond. None of these are true or are the complete truth. Uncovering the complete truth is the objective the whole story works towards, and this end goal is a constant reminder to readers (and characters) of the dangers of jumping to conclusions. In fact, Collins paces the story so that the identity of the antagonistic thief is not revealed until very close to the end, and that readers receive only pieces of the truth at a time. Also, because of their limited perspectives, characters are only able to see pieces of the truth at one time—their own current realities. Reality transfers into truth, and honesty is the truthful way of delivering the information; readers assume honesty from their narrators. See Subjectivity vs. Objectivity for more on the limitations of first-person narration.
Subjectivity vs. Objectivity
Because several first-person narrators tell the story, Franklin Blake (the compiler of the narratives) understands that each of these narrators will inevitably include their subjective interpretations of situations into their writings. A likely reason for the many multiple narrators is also so that the narrators can cross-reference and account for each other. As mentioned in the theme of Truth (and Honesty and Reality), each narrator is only capable of seeing what was immediately around them, and these accounts are only pieces of the complete truth. It requires the compilation of all these accounts from different times, locations, and people, to construct the full picture of the story of the Diamond. b. In Franklin’s foreign education, he has been taught to consider the Subjective and Objective sides of each question and situation. His reference of this problem-solving approach reflects the larger forces at play in the story.
The story of the Diamond is primarily concerned with one family: the Herncastles/Verinders. Other important characters have some sort of connection to the family, or their lack of connection is of significance. The Diamond is a problem that begins within the family (Herncastle and his cousin), and is finished and solved within the family (Rachel, Godfrey, Franklin). Betteredge considers himself to be a part of the family, but his lack of blood relation also gives him some distance from which to be a good narrator. Betteredge’s relationship to Penelope, as her father, causes him to be angry with Superintendent Seegrave—he says that “if he [Seegrave] had not suspected poor Penelope, I should have pitied him” (137). Lady Verinder and Rachel only have each other as immediate family; Rachel is the Lady’s only child, and she devotes all of her time to Rachel. As a consequence, people like Miss Clack view Rachel as spoiled, even though she is actually very generous and kind, like her mother. Rosanna and Ezra Jennings, while pivotal to plot, are outsiders and counterparts to the lead male and lead female, and they eventually fade away, unneeded. Lady Verinder’s estrangement from John Herncastle is also central to the forward movement of the plot. Without their poor relationship, the Diamond would likely not have been bequeathed to Rachel with John’s ill will, and thus the Indians (and other thieves) would not have been set after the Verinders. John Herncastle, too, died a bitter and lonely death without the love of family to anchor him.
Return of the Past
The Diamond itself is a return of the past. Readers are given the prologue, which sets up the various conflicting parties for the rest of the story: John Herncastle stole a Diamond, and with all his wickedness, his family thought they were done with him, his “ghost” returns in the unfriendly form of the Diamond he has delivered to Rachel for his birthday. Even though he has passed away by the time Betteredge begins to narrate, the first thing that Betteredge and Lady Verinder think about is the relationship between Lady Verinder and her brother the last time they saw each other. They feel that the Diamond is an act of malice towards Lady Verinder for the time she shut her brother out of Rachel’s earlier birthday celebration. The Diamond’s gifting to Rachel is not the only return of the past. Murky histories and subsequent resurfacings haunt several characters. Rosanna Spearman’s past as a thief in London follows her and shadows her character for all those who know her. Ezra Jennings’s false accusation follows him no matter where he is employed, and even causes him to be chased away from communities when the news reaches those places. Franklin Blake’s debts from the Continent follow him back to England, where his relatives witness his business meeting at Lady Verinder’s. Lastly, the three Indian priests are the ultimate return of the past, with their ancestors being guardians of the jewel at John Herncastle’s time; these descendants now follow the Diamond to England in order to restore it to its rightful place.
Belief Systems and Ideologies
Belief systems and ideologies, whether conflicting, synchronized, or simply different, are a huge presence in the book. They are also the driving factors for decisions and certain elements of plot. Characters are driven by what they believe in. The largest contrast in belief systems is between that of English or Western Christianity and the Hindu-Buddhist beliefs of the East/India. The three Indian Brahmin priests are one set of antagonists (besides the actual thief of the jewel), but they are not complete antagonists either. The story—and the protagonists—recognize that the Indians have their own belief system, their own religion, and what they are doing is to uphold the tenets of their religion. The English characters in the story acknowledge that they have a general Christian base (Betteredge talks about Christianity, as a religion, being sustainable so long as it is not pushed too far), yet they have their own smaller belief systems. Betteredge has a religious adherence to Robinson Crusoe. Franklin references his foreign education. The women in this story break through the stereotypes of being “weaker” than men (as described by Betteredge, etc.) through actions of will (demonstrated by Lady Verinder and Rachel). However, one constant belief and action performed by the women is self-sacrifice. Lady Verinder does not show her sickness. Rachel and Rosanna sacrifice themselves for Franklin. See Sacrifice theme for more details.
Sacrifice is something practiced by many characters in the book that it could be identified as a part of a belief system, but it is also widespread, unique, and singular enough to be its own general theme. Almost all characters practice sacrifice in one form or another. The Indians sacrifice their high caste, their former lives, and everything they had back in India to follow their divine calling out of love for their religion. In contrast, Rachel Verinder sacrifices herself—and so does Rosanna Spearman—out of love for Franklin Blake. Rachel arouses suspicion and chooses to stay quiet when she sees Franklin taking the Diamond; when Rosanna finds the stained nightgown, she, too, goes to lengths to help protect Franklin. Furthermore, Ezra Jennings makes sacrifices to help Franklin and Rachel restore their relationship. While none of the English characters are particularly religious, their only “pious” Christian relative is Miss Clack, who turns out to be the most hypocritical and ridiculous character of them all. Miss Clack, while constantly proselytizing, never actually makes substantial sacrifices for anyone or anything.
Betteredge begins the story by describing several important women in his life: Lady Verinder, Rachel Verinder, his late wife Selina Goby, and his daughter Penelope. Despite his respect for his mistress, Betteredge has a rather limited or narrow view on gender roles, referencing several times how women need to be treated with sweetness and kindness because they are not equals with men, and because such treatment will get them to forget the substantial questions which are best dealt with by men. His own marriage with Selina Goby is done out of a duty and not out of love, and he likes to lecture others on how marriage ought to be based on his own experience. He has a sort of awed respect for Lady and Rachel Verinder for what he describes as “male-like” qualities, which simply consist of independence and thoughtful decision-making. While it is true that Collins’s female protagonists are rather progressive for his time, it is clear from the thoughts of the male protagonists that the prevailing views at the time he was writing were still of females being submissive and lesser than males. Even the occasional woman—Miss Clack, for example, or Mrs. Ablewhite—believe that women should stay in their designated roles; Miss Clack condemns Rachel, in her writings, for speaking to Godfrey as though she were “another young man;” Miss Clack finds the equality between Rachel and other young men her age to be disturbing.
The Moonstone Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Moonstone is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.