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Popular Literature Unit 2 Crime Thriller
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29. Although the novel contains murder, blackmail, drug abuse and suicide, there is nevertheless a lightness to its tone. How does Christie achieve this lightness, and what purpose does it serve?
Ans: Christie forgoes detailed descriptions of the murder victim and lengthy explanations of characters’ grief in order to focus instead on clues about the murderer and details about all the suspects. This makes the murder a fascinating and interesting mystery, rather than a tragedy, which serves the genre Christie is writing in. In a murder mystery, the genre Cluistie perfected, the object is for the reader to have fun attempting to solve the murder along with the detective — too lengthy a diversion into the reality of murder would detract from this fun.
30. How does Christie challenge or subvert her typical format with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd? In what ways does the novel diverge from the expected Poirot mystery?
Ans: The main way the novel diverges from a typical Poirot mystery is with the character of Dr. Sheppard. Lacking his good friend Hastings, Poirot quickly “adopts” Sheppard as a companion/chronicler, but ultimately Sheppard proves to be the anti-Hastings when revealed as the murderer in the end. In a mystery novel, the reader knows to expect that any character could be the murderer, but there is nonetheless an implicit trust in the narrator, who one assumes is objective simply by playing this role. This assumption, however, proves very dangerous — and fortunately for Poirot, is not one that he makes. His open-mindedness allows him to logically follow the clues to the murderer, who turns out to be the man he hoped would be a loyal companion. Otherwise, the novel follows the typical patterns of a mystery novel — with an unexplained death, cast of suspects and the brilliant detective who solves the crime.
31. Poirot says that it’s important, when investigating, to “always bear in mind that the person who speaks may be lying” (p. 149). Why is this an important attitude, and why does it help Poirot solve the murder?
Ans: Poirot’s logical approach to solving crimes is entirely objective — he treats everyone as a stranger and a suspect. He does not allow himself to get distracted by his subjective feelings, and in this way, he is not mislead by emotion. By assuming that everyone he speaks to may be lying, he forces himself to verify all statements with fact, which allows him to get at the objective truth more than any other investigator. Indeed, were he to take everyone at their word, he never would have discovered the deception that Dr. Sheppard (and all the other characters!) employed in order to save themselves. As a relative stranger to this world, he can remain impartial and trust only the facts and logic to arrive at the truth.
32. Poirot uses many techniques and strategies with suspects and allies when he investigates his crimes. What are some of the strategies he employs towards other people, and why are they successful?
Ans: As Dr. Sheppard explains, Poirot’s “knowledge of human nature” (p. 167) informs most of his investigative strategies. His flattery of the investigators as well as Caroline proves exactly the right technique to use with those more self-important characters to ensure they cooperate with him. The fear and guilt he inspires in his suspects when he accuses them of hiding something from him forces them to come to him of their own volition and confess their secrets. Additionally, Poirot is an expert at distraction and diversion. The “experiment” be sets up between Flora and Parker, ostensibly to determine Parker’s guilt, enlists Flora to help him with this task and thus allows him to obtain the actual truth that he wants. That is, of whether she was actually observed leaving Ackroyd’s study, or simply standing outside of it. Poirot is also an expert at concealing his deductions from others, which is extremely useful; as he can then formulate his theories without arousing the suspicions of any of the guilty parties.
33. Many of the characters in the novel profess to use “logic” in their deductions, but Poirot claims he is the only one who actually does. What is the difference between the “logic” that Poirot uses and the “logic” of other characters, like the inspectors or Dr. Sheppard?
Ans: “Logic” is a term tossed around a lot throughout the novel, but only Poirot uses pure, objective logic in his deductions. Most of the other characters who profess to use logic begin their explorations from a subjective or biassed place, which ensures they will never arrive at the truth. Inspector Raglan, for example, assumes that the fingerprints he finds on the murder weapon must come from a stranger after he compares them to the fmgerprints of everyone else in the house, but Poirot realizes that they could have come from Ackroyd himself. The inspector never would have considered this because it doesn’t appear to “make sense” or “be logical” when put in context of what he expects of a murder weapon. To Poirot, though, logic would dictate that if fingerprints ‘are found, they be tested against everyone in the house, living or dead. By not allowing his preconceived notions to bias the steps he takes in his investigation, Poirot ensures that he can investigate with the purest logic, step by step.
34. The murderer in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is ultimately not a bloodthirsty killer or a sociopath, but an otherwise upstanding member of society. What is Christie saying about what makes a murderer by this characterization?
Ans: Poirot himself outlines the idea of “what makes a murderer” in his story on page 201. As he explains, one starts with “a very ordinary man” who happens to have a strain of weakness. Although in most cases, that weakness might never be called into play, the right confluence of events could activate it — perhaps when a weak man gets put in a difficult situation or accidentally stumbles on a secret. In this way, Christie implies that the right combination of personality and environment nature and nurture) can create in man the impulse to kill. It is not necessarily simply a weak man, or a man put in a difficult situation, who might be moved to commit murder, but rather when a weak man is himself put in a difficult situation that the crime becomes more likely. In this same way, Flora’s weakness and need for money led her to steal, as did Ralph’s.
35. Discuss the power and importance of class in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, specifically with regards to the characters’ behaviors and choices.
Ans: Class plays an extremely important part of the characters’ society in the novel; indeed, it rigidly influences everyone’s behaviour. The upper-class characters are restricted to “proper” and “appropriate” behaviour at all times. Even when discussing and investigating murder, a level of civility dominates because of the rules of decorum of polite society that characterizes the upper class. The lower-class characters are severely restricted, and most of their decisions are based on their class. Miss Russell’s decision to hide her relationship with her son is made, in part, because she wants to keep her job, so much of which depends on her reputation. As a lower-class housekeeper, she must keep her job or face an impossible economic situation. Ralph Paton and Ursula Bourne’s relationship is kept a secret purely because of the differences in their class — Ralph knows that his upper-class stepfather would never approve of his marriage to a parlormaid.
36. Poirot accuses Dr. Sheppard of “keeping his personality in the background” throughout his narration. In what ways does Dr. Sheppard do this ? When and how does the reader get to understand his true personality?
Ans: Throughout the novel, Dr. Sheppard appears to be a relatively neutral narrator. He recounts conversations exactly as they went, records the physical specificities of rooms, bodies and items with great detail and recounts events with precision. When he does volunteer opinions, they are about others’ personalities — his frustration with Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd’s loquaciousness or how humorous he finds Poirot’s pomposity. It is not until the final chapter that the reader gets a true taste for Sheppard’s personality when he finally explains his actions. He comes across somewhat defeatist, smugly proud of the crime he committed, and remorseless. He expresses no fear of death, and only the vaguest sympathy for what his death will do to his sister. Indeed, he is a much less likeable character when his personality comes out than during his more restrained, calculated narration.
37. Although the novel is famous for its shocking and unexpected conclusion, Christie actually leaves clues throughout as to the identity of the real murderer. Discuss some of these clues, and the way Christie employs them.
Ans: Christie leaves many clues as to the true identity of the murderer throughout the novel. Dr. Sheppard regularly makes reference to his own discomfort and worry, but always in a way that, on a quick read, appears to refer to something else. The anxiety of seeing Ralph and Mrs. Ferrars walking together produced in him, for example, appears to be an anxiety that Ralph might be the guilty party, but is actually the anxiety that Mrs. Ferrars was telling Ralph that he was the blackmailer. Poirot’s regular statements that he will “always find the truth” and that nothing can be hidden from him is another way Christie leaves clues about Sheppard’s guilt. Although Poirot appears to make these statements to others, he always does so in Sheppard’s presence, and thus he is always talking to Sheppard as well. Dr. Sheppard’s omissions throughout the novel — the way he ends key scenes without clarifying that the parties involved left or stopped talking, and skips over long stretches of time within his narrative — implies that there’s much that occurred that he does not tell us. Caroline Sheppard is another major clue to Dr. Sheppard’s guilt — it is she who accuses Dr. Sheppard of having a weak nature. Later, Poirot’s speech about the things weak men will do when pushed by circumstance refers directly to this statement.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Quotes and Analysis
38. “Our hobbies and recreations can be summed up in the one word: `gossip’.”—Dr. Sheppard.
Ans: At the beginning of the novel, Dr. Sheppard uses this quote to set the tone for the garrulous, loose lipped nature of King’s Abbott. The gossip-loving town is the ideal setting for Christie’s murder of manners, as nearly every citizen enjoys speculating and hypothesizing over who killed Roger Ackroyd and why. King’s Abbott is a small town and its citizens lack more worldly entertainment options — instead, it enjoys an extraordinary amount of intrigue. For the citizens of King’s Abbott, Ackroyd’s murder and the surrounding speculation are much less a major tragedy than they are a source of intriguing news and scandal. This helps ensure that the tone of the novel stays light and the reader doesn’t get lost in a lengthy exploration of violence, murder, and grief. Instead, the reader can enjoy the humour of King’s Abbott’s many amateur detectives, and is encouraged to play along himself, as well.
39. “But you can figure to yourself, monsieur, that a man may work towards a certain object, may labour and toil to attain a certain kind of leisure and occupation, and then find that, after all, he yearns for the old busy days, and the old occu-pations that he thought himself so glad to leave?” Poirot.
Ans: When Dr. Sheppard first meets Hercule Poirot, Poirot is officially in retirement in King’s Abbott and has taken up gardening. However, within moments of the meeting Poirot declares the above — officially condemning his retirement as a goal long sought but ultimately unwanted. There is, then, never a question that the Belgian detective will be willing to end his retirement and return to those “occupations… he thought himself so glad to leave” (which Dr. Sheppard then knows, making his warnings to Flora not to bother Poirot with the case, another clue to Sheppard’s guilt). This brilliant insight into human nature is one of the reader’s first tastes of Poirot’s genius, and his clear explanation as well as ability to accurately recognize this weakness in himself establishes him as a powerfully self-aware individual. Additionally, his willingness to admit this own fault in his personality demonstrates that he is not afraid to be critical of himself, which suggests that his many declarations of his own brilliance later on in the novel are not self-aggrandisement, but accurate depictions of fact.
40. “One must always proceed with the method. I made an error in judgement in asking you that ques-tion. To each man his own knowledge. You could tell me the details of the patient’s appearance —nothing there would escape you. If I wanted infor-mation about the papers on that desk, Mr. Raymond would have noticed anything there was to see. To find out about the fire, I must ask the man whose business it is to observe such things.” Poirot.
Ans: Observing Poirot’s investigative techniques even on his first day on the job is enough to establish for the reader that the detective is truly capable. He makes reference throughout the novel to the importance of his “method”; in this case, he is referring to his ability and goal of recognizing that each witness involved with a crime can contribute something different but essential to the understanding of what happened. He quickly recognizes his mistake in asking Dr. Sheppard about the fire — as a physician, Sheppard would have been focused on the dead body in the chair, nothing more. It is the butler who has been trained to recognize things like fire levels and furniture placement (Parker’s reveal that the grandfather chair had been moved later proves a critical clue). Although Poirot is merely asking his witnesses what they know, his genius is in knowing which questions to ask which witnesses — from this, he can build the most accurate picture of the murder and surrounding events.
41. “It is completely unimportant. That’s why it’s so interesting.” Poirot.
Ans: As soon as he learns that the grandfather chair had been moved between when Ackroyd’s body was discovered and when the police arrived, Poirot’s interest is piqued. Although the other characters counter that a detail so insignificant must be unimportant, Poirot insists that it is its insignificance that makes the moved chair so interesting. Why should it have been positioned so awkwardly in the room at the time of the murder ? And why did someone bother to move it back ? Poirot’s ability to recognize the importance of such a small detail is all part of his genius : to him, everything is a potential clue. What the investigators dismiss as unimportant Poirot knows could be the key to solving the murder — small inconsistencies indicate a larger attempt at concealment. This puts Poirot in almost direct contrast to the police investigators, who are much more focused on the more obvious (and in many cases, staged) clues.
42. “I felt he were looking at the case from some peculiar angle of his own, and what he saw I could not tell.” Dr. Sheppard.
Ans: Unlike other detective fiction, where the reader (and the narrator) is privy to the detective’s process, Poirot is famously tight-lipped about his investigations. Dr. Sheppard here is commenting on Poirot’s unique access to the case. Sheppard is aware of Poirot making connections and forming hypotheses, but he has no idea how Poirot arrives at those hypotheses, nor even the details of those hypotheses. It is not until the end of the novel when Poirot is certain of his convictions that he will share them with Sheppard (and the reader). Until then, Dr. Sheppard remains confined to guessing Poirot’s ideas. The detective’s ideas are so brilliant that none of the other characters could possibly understand what he’s thinking unless he decides to explain himself.
43. “Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to the seeker after it…Messieurs et mesdames, I tell you, I mean to know. And I shall know — in spite of you all.” Poirot.
Ans: Unlike the rest of the characters in the novel, Poirot is a relative outsider, having just moved to King’s Abbott. He is not close with any of the characters and can thus maintain a level of objectivity that frees him from distraction from his personal opinions or desires about the other characters. To Poirot, as he explains here, the truth of the case is “curious and beautiful” —something he wants to figure out for its own sake, for the pure satisfaction of solving the riddle of Ackroyd’s murder. To Poirot, the mystery is a puzzle that he will use his brilliance to solve. The subjectivity of the rest of the characters involved merely acts as a stumbling block that he must overcome in order to determine the coveted, objective truth.
44. “Every one of you in this room is concealing something from me. Yes, yes, I know what I am saying. It may be something unimportant — trivial — which is supposed to have no bearing on the case, but there it is. Each one of you has something to hide. Come now, am I right?” Poirot.
Ans: Part of what makes Poirot such a brilliant detective is his ability to interpret human behaviour so effectively. He understands almost instantly, from a combination of characters’ inconsistent statements and the actual clues of the case, that almost everyone connected to Ackroyd’s murder conceals something from him. Here, he accuses them of hiding these secrets. Although they might believe their secrets are unimportant and unrelated to the murder, Poirot can see the bigger picture and knows that there is much more to the case than meets the eye. It is only by getting everyone to confess their secrets that Poirot can start to piece the whole case together. As Dr. Sheppard later notes Poirot’s strategy of accusing everyone in this way effectively motivates many of them to confess by provoking such acute guilt.
45. “Everyone had a band in the elucidation of the mystery. It was rather like a jig-saw puzzle to which everyone contributed their own little piece of knowledge or discovery. But their task ended there. To Poirot alone belongs the renown of fitting those pieces into their correct place.” Dr. Sheppard.
Ans: Once again, here, Dr. Sheppard acknowledges Poirot’s unique ability to process the facts surrounding Ackroyd’s murder into a comprehensive picture of what happened that night. As later revealed, many different characters engaged in many different activities the night of the murder, all of which added to the confusing series of clues that the investigators had to parse through. Indeed, as is characteristic of the detective genre, almost every character had a secret he or she was concealing from the world, and, coincidentally, all of those characters actively engaged in their own secret behaviors at Fernly Park on the night of the murder. This extraordinary confluence of events made for a complicated mystery to solve, which makes it all the more impressive when Poirot pieces it all together. The sheer amount of different secrets involved in the plot is an artificial construct on the part of Agatha Christie, designed to make for an interesting case and a complex puzzle for her famous detective to solve.
46. “Let us take a man — a very ordinary man. A man with no idea of murder in his heart. There is in him somewhere a strain of weakness — deep down. It has so far never been called into play. Perhaps it never will be — and if so he will go to his grave honoured and respected by everyone. But let us suppose that something occurs.” Poirot.
Ans: At the end of the novel, Poirot stuns everyone by solving almost all of the mysteries surrounding Ackroyd’s murder. By the time he says this quote in Chapter 17, however, it is clear he already has an idea that Dr. Sheppard is the killer — indeed, he tells an eerie story about a hypothetical man who is prompted to commit murder because of a weakness of character and the perfect confluence of events. Here, in the beginning of the story, he describes Dr. Sheppard perfectly — an ordinary, seemingly decent man, but with a strain of weakness in his heart. In the right circumstances, this man can be motivated to criminal acts to satisfy his weak character. This is one of the main themes of the novel: how a combination of “nature” and “nurture” transforms a man into a criminal.
47. “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 interpretations of them.” Poirot.
Ans: In this quote, Poirot explains his basic investigating strategy in his own words. Although he knows that many accuse him of not sharing his theories, he also knows that everyone has their own interpretation of the facts. As such, he thinks his best strategy is to freely share facts with others (which cannot in themselves be disputed), while keeping his opinions to himself until he is sure they can be validated.
48. Discuss The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Symbols, Allegory and Motifs.
Ans: The Wedding Ring (symbol)
The wedding ring that Poirot digs up from the gold-fish pond is a symbol for Ralph Paton and Ursula Boume’s relationship. Although Ralph gave her the ring when they secretly married, Ursula threw it into the pond after discovering Ralph’s secret. That is, he agreed to an engagement to Flora Ackroyd when his uncle requested it, hoping that would encourage his uncle to help settle his debts. Like the ring tossed in the mud in frustration, Ursula and Ralph’s marriage suffers as a result — she is furious at this betrayal, and it causes great conflict between them.
Poirot’s Story (Allegory)
Poirot’s story at the end of Chapter 17 is an allegory for Dr. Sheppard’s guilt in the murder. Indeed, in telling the story about a hypothetical man moved to commit crimes after his weak character is exposed to just the right provocations of situations or events, Poirot is describing Dr. Sheppard’s blackmailing of Mrs. Ferrars and subsequent murder of Roger Ackroyd exactly. At the time, Dr. Sheppard is stunned to silence by the “merciless analysis” (p. 202). Ultimately, he will realize that Poirot by then knew of his guilt and was using the story as a means to explain how Dr. Sheppard was brought to the point of committing murder.
Vegetable Marrow (Symbol)
When Poirot is first introduced, he has just thrown a vegetable marrow (squash) over the wall of his garden in frustration. Poirot, recently retired from his job as a detective, has retreated to King’s Abbott to “enjoy” his retirement, but quickly learns that he misses investigating. Retirement for Poirot is an unsatisfying and unstimulating state. For Poirot, the vegetable marrow is a symbol of the disappointment of retirement. After spending months cultivating the marrow, he became so fed up with the experience that he threw it over his garden wall in frustration. Instead, Poirot needs the stimulation of an investigation in order to find satisfaction.
The Goose Quill (Symbol)
Poirot discovers a goose quill in the summerhouse, which he quickly recognizes as a tool used to snort heroin in an American fashion. The goose quill is a simple symbol for Charles Kent — indeed, it was dropped by him when he met with his mother, Miss Russell, in the summerhouse. The quill represents his presence in the summerhouse as well as his crippling addiction to drugs, which has become the fixation of his entire life, and prevented him from making something of himself.
A major motif (recurring idea/dominant feature) in the novel is gossip. As Dr. Sheppard mentions, gossip is the major hobby and form of entertainment for the citizens of King’s Abbott — the entire town participates. Caroline exemplifies King’s Abbott’s love of gossip —she constantly learns and disseminates information, and uses the servants to help her get critical information. This motif helps the novel sustain a lighter tone — rather than get bogged down in the tragedy and violence of Ackroyd’s murder, the crime feels more like an interest-ing puzzle that all the characters are intrigued by and desperate to solve.
49. Discuss The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Metaphors and Similes.
Ans : Cats (Simile)
“Butlers can creep about as soft footed as cats.” (p. 65)
With this simile, Inspector Davis refers to Parker, Mr. Ackroyd’s butler. After investigating the crime scene, Davis is convinced that Parker killed Ackroyd. In comparing Parker (and all Butlers) to cats, he attempts to explain how easily Parker could have snuck up on Ackroyd from behind and killed him. Inspector Davis believes that all butlers have the ability to remain unnoticed and undetected in a household. While normally considered a good quality for a butler, in this case, Davis uses this as evidence that Parker could have easily committed murder without Ackroyd knowing about the ambush.
“How does it feel to be Methuselah?” (p. 102) Here, Flora teases Major Blunt about his age. He mentions that he never talked much, even when he was young, and she replies that he must have been young a very long time ago. Then, she compares him to Methuselah in metaphor – Methuselah is a figure from the Bible reported to have lived to 969 years old —longer than any other human being.
“One move in the game seemed now to be concluded” (p. 157)
In this quote, Dr. Sheppard compares his interactions with Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd to a game. He has been called to her, and they both secretly know that she intends to confess what she was hiding from Poirot. However, Mrs. Ackroyd’s reluctance to confess her secret, as well as her insistence on long-windedness, keep her from confessing to Dr. Sheppard outright. Instead, she feigns illness, forcing him to go through the motions of treating her so that she can justify calling him to her for medical reasons, rather than to give a confession. For Dr. Sheppard, these unnecessary steps are a “game” that must be concluded before Mrs. Ackroyd will arrive at her true purpose.
The fact was by now spreading through King’s Abbott like wildfire.” (p. 189)
After Dr. Sheppard impulsively shares Poirot’s discovery of the wedding ring with Caroline, Miss Gannett and Colonel Carter during their Mah Jong game, he immediately regrets it. As he realises, gossip spreads quickly in King’s Abbott. He uses the simile above to compare the dissemination of the wedding ring fact to wildfire, a large, destructive fire known for spreading quickly over woodland or bush. Dr. Sheppard worries about the danger of sharing this fact, which also makes this a well-used simile: like wildfire, this fact could be destructive, particularly for Poirot. (Although as Dr. Sheppard later learns, Poirot doesn’t mind at all that he told his sister and friends about the ring.)
“On Ursula, the news fell like a bombshell.” (p. 247)
Here, Dr. Sheppard recounts the story of Ursula and Ralph Paton’s love affair. He explains how the news that Ralph was engaged to Flora Ackroyd completely devastated Ursula. She was already married to Ralph, so it is no surprise that this news was so upsetting. The simile effectively compares Ursula’s reaction to this news to a bomb being dropped onto her world.
50. Discuss the Irony of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
Ans: Dr. Sheppard’s Guilt
Dr. Sheppard is the novel’s narrator, a seemingly genial, trustworthy, thorough chronicler of the story. That he ultimately turns out to be the killer is the novel’s greatest irony. As a doctor, his job is to preserve life, but he saves no lives in the novel. Instead, he is responsible for Ackroyd’s murder, indirectly responsible for Mrs. Ferrars’ suicide, and ultimately responsible for his own suicide — a considerable loss of life, and a poor track record for a doctor. The reader takes Dr. Sheppard’s innocence for granted during the novel and bestows on him an implicit trust. So too does Poirot. However, Poirot’s objectivity allows him to discover the truth of Dr. Sheppard’s guilt.
Finding Ralph Paton
Ralph Paton’s disappearance after his uncle’s murder is a great source of confusion and mystery. The suspicion that falls on Ralph is exacerbated by the fact that he cannot be found. Finding Ralph becomes a major goal for everyone involved in the mystery with the understanding that his discovery will, no matter what, help explain at least some of the mystery. Either he will be proven guilty of the crime or he will help explain what happened. Ironically, though, his discovery only deepens the mystery. He adds no clarity to what happened. He claims he didn’t kill his uncle, but he also admits that he has no alibi for the time after his meeting with Ursula — he wandered around alone, and no one can corroborate that. Finding Ralph, then, although it was a major goal for the investigators and Poirot, is not the key to solving the mystery.
Flora Ackroyd lives at Fernly Park thanks to the generosity of her uncle — she completely depends on him for her financial survival. Ironically, though, the money and support he lends her only makes her feel more trapped, forced to rely entirely on his whims for her well-being. His death actually represents freedom to Flora, as the massive inheritance he gives her lets her truly have financial independence for the first time in her life. It is ironic that her benefactor’s death is actually what Flora benefits from the most.
51. Discuss the imagery of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
Ans: Roger Ackroyd “Ackroyd has always interested me by being a man more impossibly like a country squire than any country squire could really be. He reminds one of the red-faced sportsmen who always appeared early in the first act of an old-fashioned comedy, the setting being the village green. They usually sang a song about going up to London.” (p. 7)
Here, Christie uses imagery to paint a very clear picture of Roger Ackroyd by comparing him to an old-fashioned country squire. This helps the reader imagine him as a simple, genial, likeable, popular and comic figure from an old fashioned comedy. Ultimately, this makes Ackroyd’s distress when Dr. Sheppard first meets him all the more significant. He is not a character one would expect to fmd in such a state.
“It was indeed a beautiful object. A narrow, tapering blade, and a hilt of elaborately intertwined metals of curious and careful workmanship. He [the Inspector] touched the blade gingerly with his finger, testing its sharpness, and made an appreciative grimace. ‘Lord, what an edge,’ he exclaimed. ‘A child could drive that into a man — as easy as cutting butter. A dangerous sort of toy to have about.'” (p. 64)
There isn’t a great deal of descriptive imagery in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but Christie takes special care to provide a vivid picture of the murder weapon. With just a few sentences, she easily allows the reader to imagine the dagger used to kill Ackroyd: a viciously sharp, dangerous item. It also suggests to the reader that any character could have easily killed Ackroyd, even one without the physical strength to ‘overpower him, or indeed, even swing a blade very hard.
“It was then that I saw Flora. She was moving along the path we had just left and she was humming a little snatch of song. Her step was more dancing than walking, and, in spite of her black dress, there was nothing but joy in her whole attitude. She gave a sudden pirouette on her toes, and her black draperies swung out. At the same time she flung her head back and laughed outright.” (p. 101)
Here, Christie describes Flora Ackroyd’s joy with clarity. Being incongruous with the mood one might expect her to be feeling given her uncle’s recent murder, the imagery here effective highlights this discrepancy.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot : The Famed Writer’s Relationship with Her Famed Detective
Hercule Poirot made his debut appearance in Agatha Christie’s first ever detective story, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”, written during World War 1 (but unpublished until 1920). Afterward, Poirot appeared in over 30 novels and 50 stories, and became one of the most renowned and beloved characters in the detective genre.
Poirot is famous for his unique physical stature and characteristic grandiosity. However, his past and personal life remain vague in all of his literary appearances — much like Christie herself, who was an intensely reserved woman who guarded her private life fiercely. He is classless, unlike so many “gentlemen” amateur detectives of the interwar years, and also sexless, with no hints that he ever married or showed an interest in a romantic relationship. Despite this absence of traditional characterization, he is an adored figure, remembered in many cases with as much intensity and fondness as Christie herself.
But what did Agatha Christie herself think of her most famous detective ? In a long-lost essay written in the 1930s titled “Why I Got Fed Up With Poirot ”, Christie admits that, despite Poirot’s success, she actually felt much less fondness for the character than her readers did. “My own Hercule Poirot is often some-what of an embarrassment to me — not in himself, but in the calling of his life. Would anyone go and ‘consult’ him ? One feels not,” she admits in the essay, finding fault with the artificiality of the “private investigator” trope that she used within the detective genre. Additionally, an article in the British newspaper Telegraph published in 2006 cites Christie as having once referred to Poirot as a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep”.
Agatha Christie was in London during the Blitz of World War II, when the Nazis sieged London with constant bombings. Fearing for her life, she wrote two stories that killed off each of her most famous detectives — Poirot and Miss Marple. She included a provision in her will that the stories be published if she were to die in the war. Since she survived, however, the stories remained unpublished and Poirot remained a fixture in her writing for three decades.
Christie’s frustration with Poirot was clearly overridden by his success — she understood that he was one of her most popular characters, and thus responsible for so much of her own success as a fiction writer. As much as she may have liked to “kill off’ her “detestable” little creep, she remained loyal to him until the end of her career. In 1975, with her own health failing, she finally published Curtain, the novel she wrote during World War II, which killed off Poirot. Months later, in 1976, Christie herself died.
Public reaction to both Poirot’s and Christie’s death was despairing. Hercule Poirot was the first ever fictional character to get a front page obituary in the New York Times. On August 6, 1975, a headline ran announcing, “Poirot is Dead; Famed Belgian Detective; Hercule Poirot, the Detective, Dies”. Whatever satisfaction Christie may have gotten from killing off the detective she had come to dislike was likely muted by the numerous ways Poirot lived on in the years since their respective deaths. The many film and television adaptations of Poirot, as well as the continuing success of Christie’s Poirot Mysteries, proves that unlike Christie herself, the world still feels great affection for the little Belgian detective.
In the final paragraph of her “Why I Got Fed Up With Poirot” essay, Christie writes: “I would give one piece of advice to young detective writers: be very careful what central character you create — you may have him with you for a very long time!” Of course, had Christie followed her own advice and never created Hercule Poirot, the world would have missed out on one of its most treasured literary characters.
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