Main Theme in And Then There Were None Novel
And Then There Were None
Agatha Christie’s mystery novel And Then there Were None is not only a part of the mystery genre of literature but it is also within a specific subgenre called a “locked-room” mystery, where a crime, almost always a murder, is committed under circumstances where it would be seemingly impossible for someone to commit and/or evade detection in the course of getting in and out of the crime scene.
A recurring theme in the book is the idea that the people on the island are being served a kind of strange ritualistic justice, in the form of a children’s rhyme, however, it is revealed that everyone being “served justice” are not really being served justice, but a form of uncontrolled spree-vigilantism from one of their own, who hands out his form of vigilantism based on what he perceives as levels of moral severity, killing the most heinous in his eyes first and the most questionably immoral guest for last. Even though the all the guests share the same kind of crime, murder of one or a number of people, they all share different fates, which goes against a key tenant of what justice itself means, that justice is fair, and that fairness means we ought to treat similar cases in similar ways. For instance, it would be unfair if we were to respond to one murderer by burning them, and then respond to another, but equal criminal act by hanging them. Similar situations ought to be treated in similar ways.
Another tenant of what makes vigilantism so wrong in this case is that the perpetrator, Mr.Wargraves could have been wrong on many of his cases, for his only reassurance on whether a crime was actually committed by his victims was the word of one other person saying they committed a crime, with no further investigation as to whether one actually occurred or not. And that goes against another tenant of what justice means, that justice is equal and that our treatment of people ought to reflect the fact that we are all morally equal. There are no morally relevant differences between human beings which make it permissible to treat them differently. For instance, there is not one race or gender that is “better” than the others. To act otherwise is to engage in immoral discrimination, which in this example occurs when Wargraves takes the word of one seemingly righteous man over another.
In the epilogue there is a manuscript in a bottle, found by a fisherman and given to the police. It is written by Judge Wargrave, who writes that the manuscript offers the solution to an unsolved crime. He says he was a sadistic child with both a lust for killing and had a “strong sense of justice”. Reading about mysteries always satisfied him. He went into law, an appropriate career for him because it allowed him to indulge in his zeal for death within the confines of the law. Watching guilty people squirm became a new pleasure for him. And after many years as a judge, he developed the desire to play executioner, even though he was considered by many to be a “hanging judge” a type of judge who would grant the death penalty almost as if on a whim. Just being a hanging judge was not enough however, he wanted to kill in an extraordinary, theatrical way, while adhering to his own perverted sense of justice. One day, a doctor mentioned to Wargrave the number of murders that must go unpunished, citing a recently deceased woman he felt sure was killed by the married couple who worked as her servants. Because the couple withheld a needed drug in order to kill her, the murder could never be proven. This story inspired Wargrave to plan multiple murders of people who had killed but could not be prosecuted under the law. He thought of the “Ten Little Indian” rhyme that he loved as a child for its series of inevitable deaths.
Another tenant of what defines justice itself is that justice ought to bring about the conclusion of a criminal act for both the victims and community at large, and we do that by having a jury of the criminals fellow peers. Judges tend to be lawyers, highly educated, affluent, white, male, middle-aged to elderly in age, and members of mainstream religions and organizations. The general public doesn’t share most of those characteristics. So when a member of the general public is put on trial, they have the right to be tried by a jury of their peers, members of the same community they live in, who may understand their thoughts and motivations better than a judge would. The jury decides the facts of the case, but to the extent there are questions of law, the judge will decide those. So the jury is required only to exercise common sense, which ordinary people on juries prove over and over they have ample amounts of. Justice Wargraves totally forgoes this process to become the judge, jury, and executioner all-in-one. For example, he kills Marston and Mrs. Rogers first, he writes, because to him they bore the least responsibility for their crimes—Marston because he was born without a sense of moral responsibility, and Mrs. Rogers because she was under the sway of her husband when they murdered their elderly employer. Wargrave later watched with sadistic satisfaction as Vera disposed of Lombard. Wargrave writes that he would have killed Vera himself, but he wanted to make her death fit the rhyme, so he set up her room in a suggestive way, with a noose hanging down and the smell of the sea wafting in, letting Vera’s own guilt drive her to suicide.
The principles of justice could be described as the moral obligation to act on the basis of fair adjudication between competing claims. As such, it is linked to fairness, entitlement and equality. All of these tenets however, are totally thrown away by Judge Wargraves as he goes about his murderous spree-killing. And Wargraves knows this too, as in the epilogue Wargraves describes a murderer who he puts to death as “nodding to him”, in understanding that they are both the same kind of person. We can also see this example of Wargraves lack of equal punishment and fairness by seeing his murder of Emily Brent, as abhorrent as a person as she is, she never committed or premeditated in any kind real crime or murder, she merely fired her servant who then committed suicide. In what sane world is that punishable by death? Similarly, however appalling a human specimen Tony Marston may be, his running over of two children was, according to him, accidental. The same lack of malice characterizes Dr. Armstrong, who did not intend to kill the woman who died on his operating table. Armstrong and Marston’s actions may have been heinous, but one could argue that they did not deserve to die. Agatha Christie goes out of her way to make us sympathize with some of Wargrave’s victims, despicable though their actions may have been.
Wargrave himself, meanwhile, is a markedly unsympathetic character. He presents himself as an agent of justice, but he admits to experiencing a perverse, sadistic pleasure in the taking of life, beginning with the “various garden pests” that he killed as a boy and continuing through his days with criminals as a hanging judge, and later his trapped human victims. He is just but not at all merciful, and he kills with enthusiastic cruelty. He is also grandiosely arrogant; his conception of himself as an “artist” reduces his victims from human beings to mere means toward his selfish ends. Indeed, he writes his confession at the end only because he cannot bear the idea that his perfect crime will go unappreciated.
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