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And Then There Were None | Themes

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Murder

Like most Agatha Christie novels, murder is a central theme in And Then There Were None. The murders committed throughout the novel range from death by poison in a drink to poison in a syringe injected into the neck, from an axe to the head to a huge clock crushing a man. The murderer doesn't even have to commit the last two killings because he has successfully convinced the guests on Indian Island that one of them is a murderer. The reader also doesn't know who the real murderer is because the murderer has not only fooled the other guests, but has the reader fooled as well.

The idea that one of the guests is a murderer seems believable to the reader because there is another layer of murder underneath the action in the novel. Each of the guests has in some way been responsible for—or at the very least, has been involved with—the death or deaths of others. Each guest tries to convince the others they are innocent of murder, but only the Rogers couple seems genuine about their innocence. After the first couple of murders, the guests reflect in their own minds on their actions and the accusations against them. They admit to themselves their actions really did amount to responsibility for someone's death.

The most detailed exposition of what it must be like to want to kill someone is in Justice Wargrave's confession at the very end of the novel. His crimes are not crimes of passion—he really does just want to kill people. He spends months collecting murder victims, accumulating them and guiding them to Indian Island in one big group. Apparently, Wargrave relished killing small creatures as a child, has enjoyed sending suspects who appear in his court to their deaths whether they are innocent or guilty, and has successfully orchestrated a series of murders, which only his confession can solve. He even relishes his own death, deciding that rather than die of his terminal illness, he wants to exit the world in an impressive way. Wargrave points his desire for murder back to himself, inflicting a gunshot wound to his head that can never be traced back to him without that last manuscript in a bottle.

Guilt

The murderer in And Then There Were None uses guilt as a tool to further his mission to commit mass murder, person by person. The first thing that happens to the guests after they eat dinner is an accusation that each of them has been responsible for the death of someone, sometimes more than one person. What happens next is the two-sided coin of guilt—there is criminal guilt, of which all the guests and the Rogers couple are accused, and there is the feeling of guilt, which accompanies some of the guests' self-reflections on their involvement in the deaths of those people they have been accused of murdering.

Rogers and his wife insist they are not guilty of a crime. Miss Brent feels no guilt whatsoever, and is so wrapped up in her justification of the way she treated her pregnant maid that, in a moment of private fervor, she ends up formulating the preposterous idea that Beatrice, her former maid, is the murderer on the island. Anthony Marston doesn't feel guilty at all for his crime and blames the children he ran over for getting in his way. He is not capable of feeling responsible for anything bad or criminal, and since he loses his life first, the reader doesn't get to hear him feeling tormented by guilt. Justice Wargrave, for reasons that become obvious by the end of the novel, not only doesn't feel guilt for his actions but has a feeling of glee when he thinks about having sent a suspect to his death. Philip Lombard feels no guilt at all for leaving 21 Africans to starve to death because he believes people of color are inferior and their lives have no value. But General Macarthur, Vera Claythorne, Ex-Inspector Blore, and Dr. Armstrong all know they intentionally or unintentionally caused deaths to occur. Their guilt follows them throughout the story, and Vera's suicide is a direct result of the guilt she cannot live with.

Justice

The theme of justice is central to Justice Wargrave's reasoning for choosing the particular victims he has collected on the island, as well as the victim on the mainland, Isaac Morris, who turns out to be the first person to be killed. Wargrave kills Morris for having given drugs to a friend's daughter, who then becomes addicted and commits suicide at a young age. Wargrave has a record created with a voice accusing all of the people on the island, including himself, of murder, and it becomes clear as people die, one by one, that whoever made the recording and ordered Rogers to play it for the guests wants to take matters of justice into his own hands.

Everyone on the island thinks the recording is U.N. Owen, but there is no such person, and the guests soon realize the killer has to be one of them. Some of the guests think the voice is close to correct about their situations, but they don't want to admit it to the other guests. However, Vera Claythorne ends up admitting to Philip Lombard that she led Cyril to his death to get Hugo to marry her, and Dr. Armstrong admits to himself that he killed his elderly patient. Ex-Inspector Blore admits to Philip Lombard that he lied about Landor being guilty to avoid being strung up by a gang. Wargrave thinks justice is being done as he kills, but he also kills because he wants to. Wargrave uses justice as a pretext for his murderous intentions.

Race, Class, Gender, and Religion

Readers should keep in mind the date of publication of this novel—1939. Perceptions and attitudes were different in those times, as anti-Semitic, racist, and sexist portrayals reflected the much higher levels of anti-Semitism, racism, and sexism that existed then in Western societies. The descriptions in the novel of Isaac Morris are stereotypically negative descriptions of Jewish men, referring to his facial features, his business acumen, and his lack of ethics. Philip Lombard calls him a "Jewboy," and the narrator refers to his "Semitic" features. The original version of the novel used the racial epithet "nigger" instead of "Indian" for the rhyme, and when Miss Brent refers to the natives Philip Lombard left to die as "our black brothers," Vera Claythorne laughs and thinks she is going to become "hysterical." The stereotypes of people of color, black or Native American, that Christie perpetuates in the novel are negative.

There is also a distinction between classes, with Anthony Marston believing anyone who wasn't born to money isn't worth much as a human being. The guests' instant suspicion of the butler and his wife regarding their role in their former employer's death reflects the idea that people of their class would do anything to get ahead. They also think Rogers isn't capable of constructing such a scheme of murder because they think he doesn't have the intelligence to do so. Justice Wargrave is believable no matter what he says because of his authoritative position as a judge.

The perception of women and their abilities varies in the novel from the stereotypical weak female who faints at the slightest shock to Vera Claythorne's ability to snatch the gun from Philip Lombard, using the kind gesture of moving Dr. Armstrong's body as a distraction. Women are portrayed as easily "hysterical" but strong enough and crafty enough to murder a man, especially if they are taking revenge. Vera is faint and near hysteria when she bumps into a piece of seaweed hung in her room, but she recovers her strength. By the end of the novel, she reverts to her emotionally weak state when she sees the noose in her room, believing Hugo wants her to kill herself and is in the room with her.

Questions for Themes

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