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Popular Literature Unit 2 Crime Thriller
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Agatha Christie, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Analysis of Chapters :
Chapters 1 & 2 Analysis
The first sentence of the novel begins with the an-nouncement of a death — firmly signalling the detective genre and establishing the event that will set the novel’s piot in motion. As the reader knows from the novel’s title, it is Roger Ackroyd whose death the novel will mostly centre around — Mrs. Ferrars’ death is merely a chicle to allow the novel to begin working towards this end.
The first chapter of the novel also establishes the novel’s narrator (Dr. Sheppard), as well as the point of view he narrates from (first person). Although Dr. Sheppard appears to be fairly forthcoming with the facts of the plot, as the reader will ultimately discover, one cannot entirely trust his narration.
The first chapter contains a great deal of foreshadowing. Dr. Sheppard’s simple statement that he was “considerably upset and worried” (p.1) contains significant meaning, and actually suggests his profound involvement in the plot. He is not just upset by Mrs. Ferrars’ death, but by the implications that it will have on him.
Later on, he suggests that “as a professional man. I naturally aim at discretion” (p. 2), which on the surface seems innocuous, but gains deeper significance given Dr. Sheppard’s actual involvement in the murder. Finally, Caroline’s accusation to her brother that he is a “precious old humbug” (p. 6) is a truer statement than even she knows. His utter duplicity throughout the novel will ultimately prove that this insignificant comment elucidates the novel’s greatest secret.
If the first chapter immediately establishes the drama to pique the reader’s interest, the second chapter takes a step back to provide the reader with the necessary backstory to understand the plot. Chapter 2 is literally titled “Who’s Who In King’s Abbot” and describes the characters who inhabit the town as well as the important events leading up to Mrs. Ferrars’ death.
Indeed, most of the characters who will become major suspects in Roger Ackroyd’s murder — as well as Ackroyd himself — are introduced in Chapter 2: Ralph Paton, Miss Russell, Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd and a brief reference to Flora.
Christie includes many additional details in Chapter 2 that are easy to miss as hints of James Sheppards’ guilt. His displeasure at seeing Mrs. Ferrars and Ralph Paton together, his explanation that when he last saw Mrs Ferrars her manner had been “normal enough annskiering — well — considering everything” (p. 10), as well as the “sundry other matters” (p. 10) he contemplates as he completes his rounds “mechanically” (p.10 ) all point to a deeper level of guilt. However, Christie seksences these hints so subtly that it is almost impossible, on a first read of the novel, to recognize them as hints.
Instead, Christie immediately draws attention to more overtly suspicious behaviour among her other characters —specifically, Ralph Paton being in King’s Abbot without Roger Ackroyd knowing, and Miss Russells’ visit to Sheppard and her inquiry about drugs. Both of these actions suggest such clear duplicity on the part Ralph Paton and Miss Russell that the reader is easily distracted from the more mild suspicion around the novel’s narrator.
Additionally, the narration’s clarity and seemingly detailed nature appears to have left no stone unturned, so it is easy for the reader to immediately trust Dr. ‘Sheppard and subconsciously cast him as an innocent views to the events around him. In this way, Christie phn with the idea of a “reliable narrator” — given the general pattern of detective novels in which the narrator is usually an innocent third party, it is almost impossible not to assume Dr. Sheppard will play this same role in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. We assume Dr. Sheppard is a reliable narrator from the outset because the form of the genre requires it.
Chapter 3 Analysis
Chapter 3 finally introduces the novel’s most famous character — the detective Hercule Poirot. Even so, in his first introduction he is referred to by the wrong name (“Porrott”), and he will not correct that error for a few more chapters. This adds a level of mystery to Hercule Poirot that deepens the interest that Dr. Sheppard (and, of course, nosy Caroline) as well as the reader all have towards Poirot.
Poirot is initially introduced not as a famous detective, but as a retiree struggling with garden squashes. This is characteristic of Christie, whose other major detective, Miss Marple, is characterised as a doddering old lady rather than a suave and impressive figure.
Throughout the novel, Sheppard remains unconvinced of Poirot’s genius, even as he repeatedly demonstrates brilliant and thorough observations and deductions. Sheppard takes great pain to point out Poirot’s less impressive characteristics, such as his slightly pompous nature and small build. Ultimately, Poirot’s genius undermines Sheppard’s unimpressed attitude, another way that Sheppard proves an “unreliable narrator”. Poirot’s accomplishments, on the other hand, will prove more remarkable for these apparent shortcomings.
Once again, in this chapter, Dr. Sheppard repeatedly emphasizes his sister’s attempts at duplicity (in trying to find out more about Poirot, for example), which distracts the reader from any suspicions they may form towards Sheppard himself.
Despite his ambivalent opinion of his neighbour, Poirot’s skill is apparent in his first encounter with Dr.Sheppard. Sheppard describes Poirot as “an understanding little man” (p. 20), and within moments of meeting the detective, Sheppard confesses the very motive which will prove so damning and critical by the novel’s end. In the course of a benign conversation, Sheppard admits that he came into money a few years before, but speculated poorly and used it up. Although it seems like no mere than extraneous conversation at the time (and in-deed Christie includes much extraneous conversation in her novel to keep the reader distracted — such as Seppard’s conversation with Caroline earlier in the chapter about whether Poirot is a hairdresser), this small kernel of information will prove the crux of the novel’s more sinister turns.
The novel proceeds at a quick pace. As clues emerge one after another, it is easy to miss small details that condemn or cast suspicion on the guilty party — exactly what Christie intends with her mystery. Before the reader can linger on Sheppard’s conversation with Poirot (and clear motive Christie gives Sheppard to pursue money and financial freedom), two more major plot events are introduced : the conversation that Caroline overhears between Ralph and the mystery woman in the forest, and Shepherds visit to Ralph at the inn.
At the end of Chapter 3, Christie employs one of the major ways she (and Sheppard) mislead the reader – not by doling out false information, but rather by withholding information. The scene between Sheppard and Ralph appears to end when the chapter ends, with Ralph’s ominous assertion that he must “play a lone hand…”, but the ellipsis at the end of this chapter cannot be considered too lightly. As the reader will ultimately discover, there is much more to this scene than the chapter revealed, plenty of conversation that occurred after this ellipsis, where Ralph told Sheppard much more about what was going on with him.
Chapter 4 Analysis
The division of Chapter 4 into two parts (the only time the novel does this) serves to build the tension around Sheppard’s dinner with Ackroyd. Part l describes Dr. Sheppard’s actions leading up to and during dinner and Part 2 picks up afterwards with the events following dinner. In this way, Christie paints a clear portrait of the events of the evening without tiring the reader with tedious details. Additionally, the literary structure helps lend significance to the evening. Sheppard’s focus on retelling the events of the night with such absolute clarity suggests the importance of the night, and the major event that will soon occur.
Dr. Sheppard’s subsequent introduction of the rest of Ackroyd’s dinner guests clearly indicates the characters that will be the major suspects for the crime to come. Besides Ralph Paton and Miss Russell, who he has already introduced, he carefully describes Flora, Mrs. Ackroyd, Raymond and Major Blunt — a more detailed description of Parker, the butler, and Ursula Bourne, the parlormaid, will come later. Sheppard (and Christie) are clear to indicate not just the appearance of the characters, but also their perceived emotional states and backgrounds, as though painting as thorough a picture as possible of all the potential murderers.
When Sheppard finally does speak to Roger Ackroyd, his anxiety and fearfulness, as well as his reluctance to speak truthfully about what is going on, helps to add to the suspense already established by the chapter’s division. Sheppard describes not just the events that follow, but the times of these events — ten to 9 pm when he leaves Ackroyd, 9 pm when he reaches the gate, 10 pm when he arrives home, etc. These relatively precise inclusions add a further level of ominousness to the chapter — as though a key witness precisely records the events of the night. Additionally, they can be read as Sheppard providing his own alibi to the crime that is to come.
Once again Christie brilliantly gives the reader clues to Sheppard’s true intentions. After Roger Ackroyd tells him that Mrs. Ferrars’ had been blackmailed, he immediately asks, by who. A paragraph follows which, on first reading, seems to imply that Sheppard is afraid Ralph Paton is the blackmailer. “Suddenly before my eyes there arose the picture of Ralph Paton and Mrs. Ferrars side by side…. Supposing—oh! But surely that was impossible. I remembered the frankness of Ralph’s greeting that very afternoon. Absurd!” (p. 39).
On a first read, this sentence seems to suggest Dr. Sheppard’s fear that Ralph Patton could be Mrs. Ferrars blackmailer. However, a closer read demonstrates that it just as clearly establishes Sheppard’s fear that Mrs. Ferrars told Ralph Paton that Sheppard himself was her blackmailer. The ambiguity of the sentence, its subtlety within the context of Sheppard’s guilt, helps deepen the mystery around the novel’s true villain.
So, too, does Sheppard’s quick introduction of two more suspects. Immediately after he leaves Roger Ackroyd, he runs into Parker, the butler, who until this point he has described neutrally. Now, suddenly, he sees Parker as having a “fat, smug, oily face…there was something decidedly shifty in his eye” (p. 44) – the marks of a shady and unappealing character. Then, walking from Fernley Hall, he meets a stranger with a hoarse voice, who is consciously guarding his face. The presentation of these two suspicious characters, suddenly, provides the reader with immediate suspects for the crime that is to come, potentially distracting from any holes or questions in Sheppard’s own story.
Chapters 5 & 6 Analysis
Chapter 5 finally delivers the murder that the novel’s title has been promising. The discovery of Ackroyd’s body, as well as the resulting flurry of activity, deliver many more clues as to the identity of the murderer. Once again the reader remains in the hands of Sheppard as narrator, and once again, as the reader will ultimately discover, Sheppard deceives by omission. When explaining Mrs. Ferrars’ blackmail issue to the inspector in Chapter 6, Sheppard writes that he “narrated the whole events of the evening as I have set them down here” (p 62-3), a statement that appears to imply he told the inspector everything he knew, but instead actually implies that he deceived the inspector the same way he deceived the reader.
Not that the suspicious behaviour of the other characters is fabricated. Luckily for the deceitful Dr. Sheppard, everyone in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has something to hide, and must act dishonest when the force of the inspector’s office comes sweeping down on them. Flora’s discomfort when she’s first gets questioned by the inspector, Parker’s guilt over the accusa-tion of sneaking around — all of this behaviour is that of truly guilty parties. However the guilt is displayed by all the characters of the novel for many different offences.
The inspector’s arrival and rather obvious pomposity and incompetence in Chapter 6 — from his excitement over the fingerprints on the dagger to his awkward attempts to collect Parker’s fingerprints — will only serve to emphasize Poirot’s considerable skill when he even-tually enters the investigation. Although the inspector is only one of many police detectives who will be working on the case, he is the first responder and clearly, in Dr. Sheppard’s view, not the skilled officer that he thinks he is.
It is interesting to note the tone of the novel, especially in the chapters directly before and after Ackroyd’s murder. Although not a humorous novel, there is none the less a lightness with which Christie describes the murder. It is a subject of fascination and interest, rather than something grizzly and upsetting. The characters certainly react to Ackroyd’s murder with horror, but Christie does not intend to terrify her reader. Instead, as a murder mystery, the novel is meant to be interesting and intriguing like a puzzle. Christie achieves this lightness by focusing on clues and details of the potential suspects, rather than, for example, detailed descriptions of the victim, or lengthy explanations of other characters’ grief.
Chapters 7 & 8 Analysis
Chapter 7 affords the reader the first opportunity to see Poirot “in action” investigating Ackroyd’s murder. One of the main conventions of most of Christie’s mystery novels is a central detective — although usually (between Poirot and Miss Marple) an unexpected hero, they are nonetheless brilliant and exceptionally observant.
Poirot’s thoughtfulness and focus in listening to Sheppard’s account of the previous night, as well as in investigating Ackroyd’s study, immediately pique both Sheppard and the reader’s interest. Throughout the novel, Poirot’s brilliance will constantly leave the reader and the rest of the characters one step behind, knowing that the detective is getting closer and closer to solving the murder, but stuck in the dark as to the conclusions he draws. This prolongs the mystery, allowing the reader to attempt to come to his own conclusions about the murderer, and makes it all the more satisfying when, at the end of the novel, Poirot finally reveals everything he knows.
Poirot asks Sheppard about the fire in the grate, but then immediately backtracks, explaining that in order to find out about the fire, he must ask the man who would know to check the fire — the butler, Parker. “One must always proceed with method” he says, “To each man his own knowledge” (p. 83). Poirot, here, gives the first indication of his “method” — his ability to understand just what information he can get from each person involved in the case. Every witness and suspect can provide their own clues to help him solve the murder. However, he must know the right questions to ask, then piece together these clues to form the truth of what happened. No other investigator would have thought to ask Parker about the fire, but this clue enables Poirot to deduce that Ackroyd probably opened the window to let in a visitor.
Several times throughout these chapters, Sheppard makes reference to Poirot’s inaccessible methods..”I felt he were looking at the case from some peculiar angle of his own, and what he saw I could not tell” (p. 88) he says. In this way, Sheppard creates a division between Poirot and himself, and, by extension, the reader. The implication is that Poirot stays several steps ahead of everyone else — that the observations and clues he picks up on have a deeper and different significance to him than to anyone else. So Christie encourages her reader to attempt to match Poirot in deductions, adding to the “game-like” feel of the mystery.
Throughout the novel, Poirot refers to Dr. Sheppard as a sort of replacement for his long-time friend Arthur Hastings. The best friend of Poirot, Hastings appears as a character in eight Poirot novels, in addition to narrating even more than that. He is the companion-chronicler of Poirot. Sheppard, who narrates the novel like Hastings might, and follows Poirot as he investigates, seems initially to fill this role in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
“You must have been sent from the good God to replace my friend Hastings” Poirot says to Sheppard in Chapter 8, “I observe that you do not quit my side” (p. 97-8). Although it appears, indeed, that Dr. Sheppard is “the new Hastings” in the novel, ultimately his decision to remain so close to Poirot has a very different implication. That is, he wants to follow Poirot’s footsteps to stay on top of how much Poirot knows and suspects. Sheppard, then, is actually revealed as a sort of antiHastings, the very person Poirot is looking to discover: his enemy, not his ally. In this way, Christie subverts the genre that she herself created. She takes the “brilliant detective/loyal chronicler and friend” trope and undermines it by having the loyal friend actually turn out to be the enemy.
Chapters 9 & 10 Analysis
One of the most interesting facts about Ackroyd’s murder and one of the reasons it makes for such a good murder mystery – is how many people stood to benefit from it. This can be observed with Flora, who, in Chapter 9, is thrilled by the news of her inheritance after her uncle’s death. Although she is clearly grief-stricken by the news, his death nonetheless represents freedom for her – with the inheritance money, she finally attains freedom from the hold that financial worries placed on her her whole life.
Although just a small point in the novel, it clearly illustrates one of Christie’s major themes: in life, nothing is as it seems. Although Flora appears as one of the -freer” characters in the play – an upper-class woman who lives off her Uncle’s generosity – she is actually one of the most trapped. Her position as a dependent female means she has to beg her uncle for every cent that she gets, and the societal pressure she faces to maintain a certain image necessitates spending a lot of money she doesn’t have. Ironically, although he was her benefactor in life, his death actually frees her from the prison of this relationship – she no longer has to beg him for everything, and instead has the means to provide for herself.
The ring that Poirot discovers at the bottom of the lake is later revealed to be a wedding ring that Ralph Paton gave to his secret lover, Ursula Bourne. The ring, a clear symbol of their relationship, has been dropped in the mud, just as their relationship is currently experiencing difficulties and not in the most pristine shape. Should the truth of their relationship come out, their names, just like the ring, will surely be dragged through the mud of town gossip.
As Poirot continues to investigate, the reader again can see the thorough method he employs in his inquiries. In Chapter 8, he refers to his “little grey cells” (p. 93), referencing the logic and analysis that he uses to deduce the truth of a case, and in Chapters 9 and 10 Sheppard observes him putting his “grey cells” to use. Although Raglan, chasing clues, tediously collected alibis from every member of the house, he wasn’t able to then analyse his data to realise that only Ursula Bourne had an alibi that wasn’t confirmed or witnessed by anyone else. Poirot, instead, makes that connection, causing him to consider Bourne more carefully as a potential suspect.
This leads him to get Sheppard to visit her former employers’ home, where he will have more cause for suspicion. Eventually, by following this one thread of the case, Poirot will crack a major component (Bourne’s relationship with Ralph) wide open, which will help exonerate Ralph. This is the “method” that Poirot constantly references throughout the novel, which some-what contrasts with the obsession over physical clues like fingerprints and footprints that the other inspectors have. Ultimately, the truth of both the fingerprints on the dagger as well as the footprints outside Ackroyd’s office will not illuminate the murderer, but Poirot’s comprehensive and methodical logic will.
Chapters 11 & 12 Analysis
For seemingly the first time in the novel, Dr. Sheppard and Poirot are separated for the day in Chapter 11. As he makes his way to Mrs. Folliot’s home, Sheppard wonders why Poirot sent him. Later, he learns that Poirot used the opportunity to visit Caroline alone and ask questions about, among other things, Sheppard’s padents on the morning of the murder.
Although on the surface level it is not clear that Poirot’s actions are anything but innocent, it is possible to see, for the first time, Poirot’s investigative techniques employed against Dr. Sheppard just as much as any other character. In visiting Caroline, Poirot learns about the conversation between Ralph and the mystery woman in the woods, which Sheppard had deliberately withheld from him. Additionally, he finds out about Sheppard’s patients the morning of the murder, which he will later use to help determine the mysterious phone call made to Sheppard from the train station the night of Ackroyd’s death.
Part of Poirot’s genius is his ability to subtly and expertly investigate without putting even the guiltiest suspect on their guard, as demonstrated here. In Chapter 12, Poirot gathers all of the suspects at the table and makes his extraordinary pronouncement that everyone there is hiding something from him. He further vows that no matter what, he will find out the truth of the case. By seating Dr. Sheppard among the rest of the suspects as one of the people who Poirot pronounces this to, Christie for the first time “casts” Sheppard as a potential suspect.
Dr. Sheppard further reinforces this with the line “His glance, challenging and accusing, swept round the table. And every pair of eyes dropped before his. Yes, mine as well” (p. 146). With this line, Sheppard admits to the reader that he bears some degree of guilt for something – it is one of the reader’s clearest hints as to the identity of the real murderer.
Chapters 13 & 14 Analysis
In Chapter 13, Sheppard confronts Poirot about the snooping that he did earlier in the day. He is clearly resentful and nervous that Poirot seems to be investigating him as much as any other character. Although he takes for granted that Poirot’s comment about only being interested in one of his patients refers to Miss Russell, the reader will later learn that this is not the patient Poirot was interested in. Poirot was actually more interested in another patient of Dr. Sheppard – the American steward.
Later in this Chapter, Poirot gives Sheppard and the reader another taste of his investigative technique. “The first thing is to get a clear history of what happened that evening — always bearing in mind that the person who Speaks may be lying” (p. 149) he says. Although Sheppard comments that this is “rather a suspicious attitude” (p. 149), Poirot insists that it is necessary.
Indeed, by taking nothing for granted Poirot can arrive at the truth. Were he to assume that all the things people told him were true, he runs the risk of building a theory on a lie, which would take him away, rather than towards, the truth. By assuming that everything he is told could be a lie, Poirot is forced to investigate all leads and verify all statements. Only when he can independently verify a statement does he truly accept it as part of the truth of what happened. In this way, painstakingly, he uses logic to build the true story of what occurred the night of the murder.
Towards the end of Chapter 13, Poirot lists all the possible motives that Ralph Paton has for committing the murder. He comes up with three — a damning num-ber to Dr. Sheppard, but curiously, to Poirot, three motives “is almost too much” (p. 154). To Poirot, three motives is cause for suspicion. If someone wanted to set Ralph up, they did too convincing a job of it. It makes him suspect that Ralph is actually the perfect scapegoat, rather than the most obvious murderer.
Chapter 14, as Dr. Sheppard explains, represents a break in the traditional detective story form that the novel has thus far taken. “As I say, up till the Monday evening, my narrative might have been that of Poirot himself. I played Watson to his Sherlock. But after. Monday our ways diverged” (p. 155) Sheppard recounts, making reference to the similarities between the story so far and a Sherlock Holmes-type detective story.
Of course, although Sheppard has been at Poirot’s side up until this point, Poirot has nonetheless managed to do some surreptitious investigating into his “Watson” (something Sherlock Holmes, of course, would never do, as Watson would never be a suspect in a Holmes novel). As of Chapter 14, though, their paths diverge even more broadly, with each attending to their own business, and Sheppard (and thus, the reader) having less access to Poirot’s ministrations.
Dr. Sheppard’s reflections in this chapter offer a great deal of foreshadowing of what is to come. He hints at the knowledge Poirot cultivated that he never could have expected. He ominously mentions “the black boots” (p. 156) and explains how everyone did their small part to elucidate the mystery.
Although Dr. Sheppard has stated that he dislikes Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, he does go to her when summoned and listens to her lengthy confession about snooping for Roger Ackroyd’s will and leaving the silver table lid open. Although Sheppard expresses frustration with and distaste for Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd throughout this conversation, it is interesting to realise that of all the characters accused of hiding something, it is she who admits her guilt first — and in this way, deserves the most respect. Sheppard himself, on the other hand, will turn out to be the novel’s least respectable character.
Chapters 15 & 16 Analysis
Once again in Chapter 15, Dr. Sheppard makes intimations of his own guilt. When Caroline asks him to tto to Poirot’s to find out what Raymond wanted to talk to Poirot about, he responds, “Curiosity is not my besetting sin” (p. 168). Of course, this implies that he does have a besetting sin, which the reader will later discover. Moments later, Caroline accuses him of “always hav[ing] to pretend” (p. 168), another accusation that will prove extremely true later on.
Meanwhile, Raymond’s visit to Poirot’s home further proves the success of Poirot’s strategy in accusing the table full of suspects of hiding something from him. Sheppard describes him as having produced “a mixture of fear and guilt” (p. 167) in the suspects which caused them to come forward of their own volition and confess, which Sheppard chalks up to Poirot’s keen understanding of human nature.
Indeed, one of Poirot’s greatest strengths as a detective is how effectively he works with people in inves-tigating crimes. This is further demonstrated in his “experiment” with Flora and Parker — by enlisting Flora to ostensibly help him examine Parker, he actually arrives at his true aim, which is to determine if she was actually observed leaving her uncle’s room the night of his murder, or simply standing outside of it. This is not something she would have been likely to admit to him outright; instead, he arrives at the truth of this moment without ever having to ask her about it at all.
Chapter 16, which sets a fervent, gossipy discussion about the murder amidst the backdrop of a game of Mah Jong, helps demonstrate one of Christie’s major themes (found in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as well as most of her stories and novels): the “Murder of Manners”. Unlike other, more gruesome detective stories, Christie’s novel is firmly set in the polite, “civilised” upper- and middle-class world of Britain in the first half of the 20th century. Christie eschews violent crimes and macabre descriptions of violence: instead, her characters retain their manners and civility throughout.
By setting a gossipy scene between friends to a Mah Jong game, Christie once again establishes the politeness of her characters that their social class demands. Although Caroline and Miss Gannet would prefer nothing more than to gossip openly about the murder, they must instead limit their discussion to appropriate moments while obeying the rules of the “game” — in the same way, the characters in King’s Abbot must abide by the rules of their society.
Dr. Sheppard’s “perfect hand” of Mah Jong that he triumphantly achieves at the end of the chapter is also symbolic. To a certain extent, Dr. Sheppard feels he has committed the “perfect crime” — but just as he blunders after his hand of Mah Jong by admitting a detail about Poirot’s investigation to his companions that he soon regrets, so will he learn that his “perfect crime” is not actually perfect at all.
Chapters 17 & 18 Analysis
Poirot’s comment in Chapter 17 that he “hopes” it was Parker who blackmailed Mrs. Ferrars also hints at his growing suspicion of Dr. Sheppard’s guilt. Clearly, Poirot is fond of Dr. Sheppard, and he doesn’t want him to turn out to be the guilty party. This is significant. for Poirot often makes reference to the importance of remaining objective and viewing each character with suspicion in order to arrive at the truth. Although he does this, and ultimately does discover the truth, it adds a distinctly human layer to Poirot to realise that he may have hoped the truth would have led him in a different direction, away from his potential new friend.
Caroline’s accusation in Chapter 17 that her brother is “weak” will ultimately be one of the most powerful foreshadowing in the novel. “Weak as water” (p. 199) she claims, before continuing, “With a bad bringing up, Heaven knows what mischief you might have got into now” (p. 199). Later, in his apologia, Sheppard will reference this accusation as having been more accurate than even his sister knew at the time. It is on this “weakness” that he ultimately blames his actions.
Poirot’s story at the end of Chapter 17, although seemingly a hypothetical one, can ultimately be viewed as his own hypothesis about who committed the murder. His description of a man with a “strain of weakness” will turn out to be a perfect description of the murderer when the truth of the crime comes out.
In Chapter 18, Dr. Sheppard identifies the moment of the Charles Kent interview as the exact moment that Poirot figured out the truth of the case. “I know now that the whole thing lay clearly unravelled before him” (p. 209) he says, although neither he nor Poirot provide the reader with any more details as to this truth.
The reader of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has no doubt that Poirot will solve the case, because the novel’s narrator mentions that Poirot has actually done this at many points throughout the novel. Most detective fiction involves the satisfying restoration of order by a brilliant detective or team of detectives after a cunning and malicious evil-doer has committed some crime. In a Sherlock Holmes novel, for example, the reader has no doubt that Holmes will solve the case even before’ finishing the first chapter — it is simply the expectation established by the form of this genre. In this case, however, Christie further leans into this inevitability by having her narrator announce, at many points throughout the novel, the detective’s success.
So, there is no doubt that Poirot figures everything out — Dr. Sheppard tells us so at many points. Even more impressive then, that the novel still manages to surprise the reader with its conclusion. Working within the fairly prescribed form of the “detective story”, Christie nonetheless creates a thoroughly innovative and astonishing conclusion, which has led The Murder of Roger Ackroyd to be considered one of the greatest detective stories ever written.
Chapters 19 & 20 Analysis
Most of the secrets that the suspects have hidden from Poirot have come out by this point in the novel. As the reader has learned, almost all of them have to do with love or money.
For Major Blunt, his love for Clara is a secret that he desperately hides. She is engaged to Ralph Paton, and thus not an option for him romantically. Society would disapprove of any kind of public declaration of his love — in his upper-class world, public acknowledgement or displays of passionate love is often out of place. Indeed, in many ways it is as foreign and forbidden as violence or murder.
Poirot convinces Blunt to tell Flora of his love by arguing that while it is “good” that he keep his love hidden from all the rest of the world, he should at least not keep it hidden from Flora herself. He convinces Blunt that Flora is not actually in love with Ralph Paton, leading the Major to finally tell Flora of his true feelings. Of course, Christie keeps this meeting private from even the reader, another nod to the formality and stiffness of her characters’ world.
The last chapters of the novel involve the almost continuous revelation of secrets. Chapter 20 features Miss Russell confessing her secret — she had a son who she did not acknowledge publicly and who turned to drugs and alcohol. Like Major Blunt, Miss Russell’s secret is born of shame but redeemed by love — in her desire to keep her son hidden from the world, she went to great lengths, and only when his safety is threatened (and he is suspected for Ackroyd’s murder) does she confess to her connection.
For Miss Russell, love is the only force powerful enough to draw her secret out of her. Although shame primarily motivates her to keep her secret, the love she bears for her son and her desire to see him protected is stronger, and makes her confess to their relationship in order to save him.
Chapters 21 & 22 Analysis
One of Poirot’s most revealing lines in the novel comes towards the beginning of Chapter 21. “My friend Hastings, he of whom I told you, used to say of me that I was a human oyster. But he was unjust. Of facts, I keep nothing to myself. But to everyone his own interpretation of them” (p. 238).
This is the exact truth of Poirot’s method — he freely shares the facts that he has gathered with all, but he keeps his own brilliant interpretation of them, which allows him to actually understand the truth of the matter, to himself until he’s solved the whole case.
Throughout the novel, when Sheppard asks Poirot a question about his theories or suspicions, he often responds with a fact, which does not help Sheppard and the reader in terms of solving the case. To Poirot, facts are neutral enough to be shared, but interpretations are subjective, and until he has proven his own interpretations as fact, he keeps them to himself so he can continue to revise his own theories.
Despite the fact that both servants and masters are presented as suspects of Roger Ackroyd’s murder, there is still a great deal of class division with the novel. Although Parker, Miss Russell and Ursula Bourne are all presented as potentially the murderer, they are considered separately from the upper-class members of the Femly Park household. Indeed, when Poirot gathers the suspects to a meeting and announces they are all hiding something from him, it is only the “upstairs” upper-class suspects that he addresses. Later, when he bids the suspects come to his home for the novel’s climax, he again only publically invites the upper-class suspects. Miss Russell and Parker enter after the fact, a nod to their lower status.
Perhaps the greatest example of the rigid class system in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the character of Ursula Bourne. Born a “lady”, but to a very poor family, Ursula was forced to make a living for herself, and decided to become a parlormaid even though it represented a step-down in class. Thus her love for Ralph was forbidden, causing the secrecy between them that led to so much trouble for Ralph. The challenge of her predicament was due entirely to her perceived class. Ackroyd’s fury at learning that his stepson had married a penniless servant is what caused her to tender her resignation.
Once Ursula Bourne is revealed to have been born a member of a higher class (and married to Ralph Paton), she is suddenly introduced at reunion in Poirot’s home (that takes place in Chapter 23) that had until that point only included upper-class members of the household. And indeed, Poirot begins the meeting by justifying Bourne’s presence there, explaining that she is married to Ralph. (Miss Russell and Parker are snuck in later.)
Chapters 23 & 24 Analysis
Once again in Chapter 23, Dr. Sheppard is brought into direct comparison with Hastings when he offers Poirot the written record of the case thus far. Of course, Dr. Sheppard will ultimately prove to be an anti-Hastings when his true involvement in the crime is revealed. Poirot’s excitement over Sheppard’s written record is, at this point, less because he is trying to find a Hastings substitute in Dr. Sheppard, and more because he is trying to manipulate Sheppard and get more of his story out of him.
Later, when Poirot has read the manuscript, his insistence that Dr. Sheppard has left himself out of the story and downplayed his involvement in it, although initially perceived as flattery, is actually an accusation. Poirot by this point knows that Sheppard has had a much bigger part in the story than he’s recorded.
This chapter also provides context for the novel itself. The reader now understands that the pages of the novel are the same that Dr. Sheppard shared with Poirot that day. As he himself explains, he gives Poirot the novel up through Chapter 20. This justifies Dr. Sheppard’s narration, and helps the reader understand that, ultimately, Poirot finds fault with that narration. Sheppard has not been entirely truthful.
The brilliance of Chapter 24 is how it appears to exonerate Dr. Sheppard. If the reader had any suspicions of him (as, perhaps, the reader should have, given the various references to Sheppard’s guilt throughout the novel — e.g., the lowering of his eyes in Chapter 12), they seem to be explained by the truth revealed in this chapter: it is Sheppard who hid Ralph Paton. If this is the “secret” Sheppard has been hiding the whole novel, he is “guilty”, but certainly not a criminal. The implication is that Sheppard hid Ralph out of concern for the man because they were such good friends. Indeed, Poirot himself appears to acknowledge that this is Sheppard’s true deception. “Have I not told you at least thirty six times that it is useless to conceal things from Hercule Poirot?” (p. 266) he asks Dr. Sheppard. Poirot’s accusation at the end of Chapter 24 that the real murderer remains at large, appears to be directed at all the other characters gathered in the room, not Sheppard. This will make the final revelation of the novel even more shocking.
Chapters 25, 26 & 27 Analysis
The final chapters of the novel move swiftly to its stunning conclusion. To those who remember The Murder of Roger Ackroyd among the great works of detective fiction, it is the novel’s conclusion that contributes to this greatness. Christie’s twist that the narrator, Dr. Sheppard, is actually the murderer was revolutionary at the time, and challenged the boundaries of conventional detective fiction.
This twist illustrates the idea of the “unreliable narrator”. An unreliable narrator is one whose honesty the reader has taken for granted up until this point, but who ultimately reveals himself to be guilty of manipulated the text. Many of Dr. Sheppard’s lies came by omission —he left out certain scenes that would have implicated him (most obviously, Ackroyd’s murder and his actions to cover up the crime).
Any outright lies that Sheppard tells come as quotes — lies he tells to others, not lies written into his narration. (For example, he always makes claims, like not knowing where Ralph Paton is, when speaking to another character rather than in his narration.)
Dr. Sheppard’s final chapter, where he owns his crime for the first and only time in the novel, is brief. In passing he mentions that he feels no pity for himself; his only regret seems to be that Poirot got involved to begin with. Otherwise, one must imagine that the crime would have remained unsolved. The title of this last chapter, “Apologia”, supports this lack of remorse. An “apologia” is a written defence of one’s conduct — and although Sheppard is brief in this chapter, he clearly is defending his actions more than he is apologising for them.
“Poor old Ackroyd” (p. 283) he says, and later, “I suppose I must have meant to murder him all along” (p. 284). Throughout the novel, other characters have made reference to their weaknesses. Here, Sheppard acknowledges his own with this defeatist attitude. “All along I have had a premonition of disaster” (p. 283) he writes, as though he never expected to get away with the murder. Indeed, there is a lack of fear or sadness in his decision to kill himself that speaks to this defeatism.
More So than any other chapter, in Chapter 27 Dr. Sheppard’s true personality begins to shine. As Poirot himself remarked, Sheppard has “kept [his] personality in the background” (p. 255) for most of the manuscript — and indeed, he is a neutral enough narrator that the reader assumes a kind of geniality and goodness to him simply based on the face he describes himself presenting to others. In the final chapter, however, the man’s true self peeks through — defeatist, certainly, but also somewhat smug about his accomplishments as well as his writing skills (“I am rather pleased with myself as a writer” (p. 284)), hnd entirely remorseless for his crime. Indeed, he expresses only the vaguest concern over what his suicide will do to his sister (“I should not like Caroline to know. She is fond of me, and then, too, she is proud… My death will be a grief to her, but grief passes” (p. 285)). He soon passes from any feelings towards Caroline to rueful frustrations over Poirot’s involvement. He seems curiously detached from the entire event, as though manifesting his defeatism as objectivity. Mostly, he uses the final chapter to fill in the last details that the reader (and Poirot) need to understand the entire crime — a satisfying conclusion for those looking to fully comprehend the entire mechanics of the crime, but less satisfying for those readers hoping for an emotional apology from the murderer.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Character :
Dr. James Sheppard : The novel’s narrator is a physician in the town of King’s Abbott. He serves as a companion-chronicler to Hercule Poirot, the brilliant detective who will eventually crack the very complicated case. Although Sheppard appears to be a genial, straightforward character, his complicity in the mystery will prove one of the great plot twists of all time. Ultimately, Dr. Sheppard is revealed to be a shrewd, duplicitous, detached villain.
Caroline Sheppard : Dr. Sheppard’s older spinster sister is a voracious gossip who uses a network of servants as informants to gather all sorts of information on anyone who piques her interest. She is unsatisfied unless she knows about all the goings-on in the town, and usually interjects her opinions on things, especially when unprovoked. Agatha Christie later admitted that Caroline served as a model for her famous Miss Marple character, the spinster detective who pokes her nose in everyone else’s business.
Hercule Poirot : Perhaps Agatha Christie’s most famous character, Poirot appears in 33 novels and over 60 short stories. A retired Belgian detective, Poirot is small in stature but full of self-importance. He is a brilliant detective, relying on his own logic and critical thinking skills (rather than an obsession over physical facts and clues) in order to determine the truth of the crime. He treats everyone as a suspect, and takes no statement or allegation for granted. Instead, he painstakingly verifies all testimonies while privately forming his own hypotheses, only revealing the truth when he is sure of his suspicions.
Mrs. Ferrars : Although she never appears as a living character in the. novel, Mrs. Ferrars nonetheless plays an important role in the plot. A nervous woman who, according to Caroline, couldn’t stand her alcoholic husband, she poisoned him in order to escape from his abusiveness. However, the financial strain of being blackmailed for this crime, as well as the guilt over the crime itself, led her to kill herself, but not before asking her close companion Roger Ackroyd to avenge her against the blackmailer.
Roger Ackroyd : A genial widower, Ackroyd is the central figure in King’s Abbott. A wealthy business-man, Ackroyd’s influence as well as the intrigue surrounding his stepson, family, and himself, make him a constant subject of gossip and speculation. Sheppard describes Ackroyd as being a proper man, who believed heavily in society’s rules for rightness as well as its class divisions. He is murdered at the beginning of the novel, providing the mystery that Poirot will so brilliantly solve.
Ralph Paton : Ackroyd’s stepson, Paton is handsome and charming, but constantly getting into trouble with debts and financial obligations. His disappearance, as well as several major clues (including how well he stood to benefit from Ackroyd’s death), make him the major suspect in the crime. He is described as having a “weak” character, which leads him to fall constantly into debt, and look for easy ways to discharge it (such as agreeing to many Flora when he is already committed).
Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd : Ackroyd’s sister-in-law, she and her daughter Flora came to live at Fernly Park after her husband (Ackroyd’s brother) died. Shallow and garrulous, Mrs. Ackroyd is prone to episodes of self-involved drama, and admits to falling into debt in an effort to sustain her upper class lifestyle. She complains of the difficulty of relying financially on her miserly brother-in-law. Flora
Ackroyd : Mrs. Ackroyd’s daughter, Flora is young, fair, and beautiful. Like her mother, she is burdened by the strain of being financially dependent on her uncle, and longs for freedom from this frustrating reliance. Although she agrees to be engaged to her step-cousin Ralph Paton, she does so because she sees the opportunity for more independence and a new life, not out of love. She claims to have a weak character (particularly with regards to money) just like Ralph, and she claims that an understanding of this mutual weakness brought them together.
Geoffrey Raymond : Ackroyd’s young, charming secretary, Geoffrey Raymond is buoyant and debonair, maintaining a relaxed attitude throughout the investigation. Although Ackroyd’s death upset him, he is nonetheless laid back and confident throughout the novel. He admits to being in a bit of debt, which the money he got from Ackroyd’s will takes care of, but insists that he has an alibi for the time of the murder, and thus should not be considered a suspect.
Major Blunt : A big game hunter and old friend of Ackroyd, Blunt is taciturn and, when he does speak, direct. Blunt’s secret love for Flora Ackroyd seems out of character with his moderate, reserved personality, but his ultimate decision to express this love allows him to win her over in the end.
Miss Russell : Ackroyd’s housekeeper, Miss Russell is efficient and no-nonsense, with a proficiency that renders her intimidating to many of the characters she encounters, even those in a higher social class than she. Although she is reserved to the point of inaccessibility, she ultimately demonstrates emotion when confronted after her son, Charles Kent, faces suspicion for Ackroyd’s murder. Miss Russell distanced herself from her son because she gave birth to him out of wedlock — although she provided for him financially, she refused to acknowledge him publicly for fear of what it would do to her reputation. Her respectability is of the utmost importance to her.
John Parker : Ackroyd’s butler, Parker, is a professional and competent servant. Poirot suspects there is something corrupt about him, and eventually discovers that Parker blackmailed his former employer, and was snooping around for the means to blackmail Ackroyd, as well. Although Parker is greedy, Poirot nevertheless deems him too cowardly to be Ackroyd’s, murderer.
Ursula Bourne : Born a “lady” but forced to make her own living when her parents could not provide for her, Ursula decided to become a parlormaid. Although it represented a step down in class, it allowed her to support herself, and she knew she was a competent maid. After falling in love with Ralph Paton and secretly marrying him, Ursula was furious when he announced his engagement to Flora and is distraught when he disappears after his uncle’s murder.
Charles Kent : Miss Ackroyd’s disowned son. Kent shows signs of having been a strong, capable, smart man, but an addiction to alcohol and heroin has caused him to become a seedy, paranoid criminal. Although Miss Russell wants to believe he can recover from his addiction, he does not show any signs of being motivated to cure himself. He does not, however, reveal his mother’s identity when questioned by the police, helping to preserve her reputation in town.
Inspector Raglan : The main inspector into Ackroyd’s murder, Raglan immediately identifies Ralph as a potential suspect. Raglan’s reticence to welcome Poirot onto the investigating team is softened only by Poirot’s adept flattery. He is proud of his investigative method, although he lacks the critical thinking skills and brilliance that allow Poirot to analyse the many clues the crime provides.
Inspector Davis : The local police officer, Davis is the first on the scene when Ackroyd is found murdered. He is self-important and blundering, and obsessed with physical clues that will ultimately not prove to be useful to solving the murder. His initial incompetence only serves to demonstrate the brilliance of Poirot.
Colonel Melrose : A local, Colonel Melrose is initially reluctant to believe in Ralph’s guilt. He is fond of Ralph and unwilling to consider the possibility that Ralph could be the murderer. However, as the evidence against Ralph mounts, he hesitatingly begins to be convinced
that Ralph is the killer.
Mr. Hammond : Roger Ackroyd and Mrs. Ferrars’ lawyer, Mr. Hammond is a small, “dried up” man who Dr.Sheppard describes as “having lawyer written all over him” (p. 111). However, he does willingly provide Poirot with some key details about the terms of Ackroyd’s will as well as the money Mrs. Ferrars was paying her blackmailer.
Elise Dale : The housemaid, Elise Dale is a simple, straightforward girl, and quickly dismissed by Poirot as a potential suspect.
Miss Gannett : A good friend of Caroline Sheppard, Miss Gannett is, like Caroline, a busybody and town gossip, who adores speculating with Caroline about the crime.
Colonel Carter : A friend of Caroline and Dr. Sheppard. Colonel Carter is a somewhat pompous man who likes to exaggerate the details of his “exotic” and “impressive” past.
Mrs. Folliott : Ursula Bourne’s sister, Mrs. Folliott pretends to be her former employer in order to help Ursula get a job. A kind woman unused to lying, she becomes incredibly uncomfortable when Dr. Sheppard asks her about Ursula.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Themes
The Triumph of Good and the Restoration of Order
Most detective fiction involves the satisfying restoration of order by a brilliant detective or team of detectives after a cunning and malicious evil-doer has committed some crime. In a Sherlock Holmes novel, for example, the reader has no doubt that Holmes will solve the case even before finishing the first chapter — it is simply the pattern of the genre. Christie leans even more into this pattern in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The reader has no doubt that Poirot will solve the case because Dr. Sheppard, writing after the fact, repeatedly reminds the reader that Poirot has already done so. The question is not if order will be restored and good will triumph, simply how. The predictability of this theme within the novel is something the reader can count on with certainty.
“Murder of Manners” : Unlike other, more gruesome detective stories, Christie’s novel is firmly set in the polite, “civilized” upper- and middle-class world of Britain in the first half of the 20th century. She often eschews violent crimes and macabre descriptions of violence – instead, her characters retain their manners and civility throughout. There are no scenes of violence or gore; instead, the novel primarily features characters having civilised discussions and attending social gatherings. The rules of middle- and upper-class England are rigidly applied to all characters, who behave with restraint and courtesy throughout. Even when he has been formally accused by Poirot of being the murderer, Dr. Sheppard doesn’t respond with anger or violence, but instead politely disagrees and returns home. Despite this civility, murder is still the central intrigue of the novel, and blackmail, lies, and secrets abound.
Nature vs. Nurture in Creating a Criminal
A major human question is one of “nature” vs. “nurture” – does a person’s environment determine their behaviour, or is their behaviour determined by their innate character. At the end of Chapter 17, Poirot’s allegorical story about a weak man who, when desperate enough or provoked in just the right way, is moved to commit a crime, articulates the novel’s stance on this debate. It is the precise combination of a weak character and the right circumstances (both nature and nurture) that create a criminal. In the case of Dr. Sheppard, it was his “streak of weakness” combined with the opportunity to make easy money, and then the desperate need to hide his behavior, that provoked him to commit murder. Sheppard is not a sociopath or a hardened criminal, merely a weak man who was put in a tempting, and then challenging, situation. There are other characters in the novel who embody this theme. Flora declares herself a weak character, and it is this weakness combined with a desperation for money that caused her to steal from her uncle. Ralph, also described as weak, was moved to break his marriage vows and become engaged to his step-cousin when he recognized the opportunity to get out of the crippling debt he found himself in.
The Danger of Secrets : Nearly every character in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has a secret, and the danger of keeping these secrets to themselves is demonstrated again and again. For example, Flora keeps the secret that she never actually said goodnight to her uncle before he was murdered, which prevents the investigators from determining an accurate time of death for Ackroyd, and thus throws suspicion onto innocent characters.
Even secrets unrelated to the murder can be dangerous. Major Blunt is desperately in love with Flora, but he keeps the secret to himself, which prevents him from finding the happiness that he could find if he shared his love with her. When Poirot convinces him that the secret is not one he should keep to himself, he finally opens up to her, and they quickly become engaged.
The Power of Method and Logic : Although many characters in the novel act on impulse and are motivated entirely by emotion, Poirot’s brilliance lies in his ability to distance himself from his emotions and consider every fact objectively. He constantly references the importance of his “method” — the way he systematically considers the facts, taking nothing for granted and no one at his word, until he can painstakingly build the truth from the facts he has collected. Unlike Flora or Colonel Melrose, for example, both of whom are convinced but unable to prove that Ralph is innocent because of their emotional connection to him, Poirot maintains objectivity with regards to Ralph. Poirot is able to prove Ralph’s innocence through thorough investigation of the facts. It is only with this “method” that Poirot ultimately triumphs over the seemingly impossible case that manages to baffle every other character in the novel.
The Danger of Assumptions : As much as the novel promotes the power of method and logic, it similarly points out the danger of assumptions. Characters in the novel are constantly making assumptions about each other and about the murder. Nearly every time a character makes an assumption without having used method and logic to back it up, they are proven wrong. The most powerful example of this theme, however, is demonstrated with the reader himself. Most people on their first read of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd assume a certain level of trust in the narrator. Simply by virtue of his position as the novel’s chronicler, Dr. Sheppard is unconsciously deemed trustworthy by the reader, and consequently the reader may miss the many clues Christie includes as to his guilt throughout the novel. When Sheppard is ultimately revealed to be the murderer, it is a stunning revelation, and a powerful lesson for the reader in the danger of assumptions.
The Power of Class Distinctions : Most of Christie’s novels focus on upper-class characters but feature members of the serving class in supporting roles. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is no exception, and indeed, the power of the divisions between members of the two classes is palpable. This is most clearly illustrated in the character of Ursula Bourne, whose romance with and marriage to Ralph Paton has to be kept a secret because of her position as a member of the serving class. Paton is worried that if his uncle were to find out that he married a servant with no money, he would be furious, and thus, he persuades Ursula to keep the marriage a secret. This secret winds up caus-ing much trouble and adding much confusion to the mystery of Ackroyd’s death, a nod to the incredible power of class divisions within the world of the novel.
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