And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None Themes

Murder of Manners

Christie began writing her fiction in the early twentieth century, just decades after the death of England’s Queen Victoria. The Victorian Era was a period of economic, industrial, and political consolidation in British history. Socially, the era was characterized by growing conservatism. This social conservatism is seen in Christie’s novel through the relatively subdued ways in which her victims are murdered. Instead of using intense scenes of vivid violence, Christie kills her victims through less obvious means. Christie uses poisons to kill her victims, for instance, and her victims are usually killed in solitude. The mystery and suspense of her novels are built not through intense uses of violence, but through violence imagined in the reader’s mind.

The Pervasiveness of Evil

Each character in And Then There are None must deal with the issue of evil and its pervasiveness in their lives. In their previous lives, these characters had been responsible for the death of another human being in some direct way. Even though they had all found ways to resolve their own involvement in these evil acts, the killings on Indian Island draw them into a world in which evil has full reign. Christie is commenting on an inherent evil nature within human beings. Though each character believes himself to be innocent despite the death he previously caused, the reign of terror on Indian Island is a final indictment on his inherent evil.

Resolution of Order

Detective genre fiction often resolves with the underlying idea that the right order of the world can be reconstructed through the identification of guilt and the elimination of evil from the world. Christie’s novel is a prime example of this belief. The Indian Island murderer seeks to right a wrong order in the world; the novel's victims have committed a grave wrong against humanity and have been allowed to continue in their lives without justice. The murderer, through his violence, removes this wrongness from the world. Literary critics have noted that this process of resolution is one explanation for the genre’s mass popularity – this resolution of order removes ambiguity and allows the reader to finish the novel with their own conscience cleared of guilt.

Genre Fiction

Christie’s detective novels are considered the height of genre 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. Many critics deride genre fiction for its lack of seriousness, inferior literary qualities, or adolescent style. Christie’s genre novels, however, often bridge the gaps between literary fiction and genre fiction by using serious literary themes, developed symbolism, and ingeniously creative plots and characters. Her novels often received glowing praise from many literary critics of her day and continue to be well received by critics and audiences alike.

The Renewal of Social Optimism

One of the reasons that Christie’s novels have continued to be popular is that they offer some of the best examples of the renewal of social optimism in genre and detective fiction. Detective fiction leads the reader on a wild and uncertain chase. By the climax, when the novel’s characters have all been killed and it appears that the killer will get away with the crime, the reader is left in a state of suspense over whether the social order of the novel will be overturned and destroyed by the killings and a lack of justice. Social optimism is restored, however, in the novel’s final chapters. In And Then There Were None, this final act consists of the chapters of explanation after the final deaths on the island, as the detectives investigate the deaths on Indian Island and the killer explains his motives and planning. The death of the killer restores the social order, and the reader goes through a process of catharsis through knowing that truth and order still exist.

Distinction and Threatening of Class

British society, unlike American democracy, is not built upon a presumption of no historical identity. Class distinctions often run deep amongst groups of varying racial and socioeconomic position. American readers often find this a foreign concept, but British audiences of Christie’s novels would be very aware of the class distinctions between characters, and of how they add degrees of complexity to the plot of the novels. In And Then There Were None, the murders on Indian Island represent not only a degree of harm to the physical well being of the characters, but they also represent a threat to the social order of the Island. Violence is perpetrated on the characters regardless of class. The wit and defiance of the upper classes, represented by characters such as Miss Brent and Dr. Armstrong, are no more effective at stopping the violence than the brute force of a character from the lower or working classes such as Mr. Blore or Mr. Lombard.

The Sanctity of Life

Christie upholds the sanctity of life through exposing the horror of its negation. Murder violates this sanctity; it is not an ambiguous act in Christie’s fiction. The murderer is always in the wrong. In And Then There Were None, this is true not only for the Indian Island murderer but also for all of the novel’s characters. Even though they claim a certain degree of innocence regarding the murders for which they are accused, the reader still has a sense that these characters are tainted with evil motives. Murder, therefore, is the attempt of the murdering individual to play God with the life of another. This causes unbalance in the order of things both in the novel and in the natural world.

Supernaturalism vs. Realism

Unlike other genre novels such as horror or science fiction, Agatha Christie’s detective fiction is firmly rooted in a rationalist and realist mode of literature. Some of the characters in And Then There Were None suggest that supernatural forces are to blame for the deaths on the Island. Miss Brent, for instance, blames the Devil for possessing one of the guests and Vera Claythorne cannot help but believe there are supernatural powers directing the events on the island. Realism is represented in the novel by Dr. Armstrong and by Mr. Justice Wargrave. They seek to use scientific evidence and rational inquiry to deduce the murderer’s identity. At the end of the novel, when the killer writes out his confession for the Scotland Yard authorities, he show that there is a rational explanation for the murders and that the killer used rational thought to plan and execute his plot. The murders, while fantastical, are committed with a degree of realism helping to add to the suspense and horror of the reader as they identify with the crimes.