And Then There Were None | Study Guide

Agatha Christie

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And Then There Were None | Symbols

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The Storm

The symbol of a storm first appears when an old man on the train with Ex-Inspector Blore says a squall (a sudden, violent storm) is coming. Blore marvels at how older people can tell when storms are coming even when everyone else thinks the weather is just fine, but the old man's elaboration that judgment day is coming makes the storm symbolize more than just bad weather. Blore thinks the old man is a bit crazy, but it's Blore who doesn't see the bigger storm on the horizon, the murders about to occur on Indian Island, including his own.

Fred Narracott can't get to the island because there is a storm coming, which isolates everyone on the island not only from food and supplies, but from a way to get off the island before they lose their lives. The storm in this context symbolizes the inability of the guests to control their fates.

When the storm actually arrives on the island, it not only makes the sea too rough to navigate but keeps everyone inside the house. It symbolizes the terror each person feels and further intensifies the idea that they are helpless on the island, stuck without a boat to get them back to the mainland. The violence of the storm symbolizes the violence of each murder, which carries with it an increasing sense of fear and foreboding.

The Ceramic Figurines

The ceramic figurines are 10 little Indians, just like the nursery rhyme on the wall of each person's room in the house on Indian Island. The figurines seem to be there to symbolize the island's name (Indian Island), and Vera Claythorne notices they match the nursery rhyme. Some of the guests think this is silly, but Vera thinks it's clever. She doesn't think it's clever for long, though, when Rogers points out to her that the figurines are disappearing.

Rogers, Vera, and soon the remaining guests who are not yet dead, realize that the figurines actually symbolize much more than just the nursery rhyme and the island's name—they mark the number of people on the island, and after each murder, one figurine goes missing or is destroyed. Their disappearance makes Vera notice that the murders eerily match the verses in the rhyme, too. Just before Vera Claythorne, supposedly the last guest alive, kills herself in her traumatized state, she drops and shatters the last figurine.

Meals

The meals in the dining room symbolize the increasing desperation of the guests, as food becomes less available and less appetizing as time goes on without a delivery from the mainland. At first the Rogers serve a luxurious dinner and dessert, and everyone thinks their time on the island is a strange event but not a disagreeable one. However, by the end of the novel, the remaining guests eat "tinned tongue," which makes them feel sick, mirroring their sick fear that they are next in line to be murdered.

In addition, mealtimes serve as distractors, permitting the murderer to go about his business undisturbed. The murders happen either during a meal, just before it, or soon after, with poison appearing in drinks, administered via syringe while the rest of the guests are in the kitchen helping with dishes, or just when a guest (Blore) is desperate for his regular lunch and goes back to the house, knowing that he may be risking his life to do so.

Meals also serve as the only way the remaining guests can keep their sanity, trying to stick to a regular schedule and a normal life, although the deaths keep happening no matter how they try to avoid them. They try to make small talk during meals, as if nothing terrible is happening, but after a while, when there are only a few people left, even mealtime can't give them any respite from impending violence.

The "Ten Little Indians" Rhyme

The "Ten Little Indians" nursery rhyme in each guest's room symbolizes the method of death inflicted on each victim. It also shows how many people are left to kill. Each murder is mirrored by the method by which a little Indian disappears, and the "and then there were ... " line tells how many guests remain. Eventually, the guests figure out the killer is using the rhyme to orchestrate each murder, right down to the bumblebee on the window and the prick of the syringe that kills Miss Brent.

Guests perceive the killing of Dr. Armstrong as a "red herring" disappearance, meant to distract them, that allows Dr. Armstrong to hide and kill the rest of the guests. However, Dr. Armstrong is actually the victim of a red herring, a move that distracts him from what is really happening. He "swallows" the red herring, the lie Justice Wargrave tells him, that they are faking Wargrave's death so Wargrave can invisibly help find the killer.

The last stanza of the rhyme is what happens to Vera Claythorne, who hangs herself in a daze, and then, as the title of the novel says, "there were none." It appears to her, as she heads to her room and discovers the noose, that she is the last little Indian. It isn't completely true that she is the last person on the island, though, because her chair is put away, so there must be someone left. One guest actually still remains on the island, until Wargrave kills himself. Wargrave is determined to kill 10 people, though, and he considers the first killing to be Isaac Morris. Wargrave is the 10th guest to die, but the 11th person in the murder spree to go.

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