Murder on the Orient Express is more than just a murder mystery. It is a novel that utilizes a great deal of existing social issues of the era in which it was written and formed a commentary on those issues while giving the reader an intriguing yet approachable narrative. Through this approach, Agatha Christie has given the reader an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of the seasoned private investigator Hercule Poirot.
In this world, nothing is at it seems and apparent coincidence belies a hidden truth, a world in which the geographical connections created by passenger railways allowed people of different nationalities and classes to rub elbows.
Stereotypes of class and nationalities are both dominant social themes that persist throughout the novel. Social themes of crime, as well as good versus evil of the era also play an important role in the narrative. Americans, at least the two who freely admitted to being American, are comedic characters in the text.
Hardman and Mrs.
Hubbard use improper slang, are obnoxious, and think their country is the best, both caricatures of American males and females. The chapter detailing Mrs. Hubbard’s interview is actually named “The Evidence of the American Lady”. Hardman loses his persona at one point. Poirot notes this in the novel as though finally being able to accept him once the good-humored facade is gone. “At the same time his whole personality seemed to undergo a change. He became less of a stage character and more of a real person. The resonant nasal tones of his voice became modified” (136).
This portrayal of Americans, while comedic, is a commentary on the generalized view of the United States and its citizens by much of the world. Mrs. Hubbard tells people that Europe needs Western ideals. While Hardman, who constantly speaks in awkward slang tells M. Bouc he would “learn a few go-ahead methods over there… Europe needs waking up. She’s half asleep” (45). Poirot agrees that America is a place of progress, but it is clear this progress is not always positive. This was a general feeling of America at the time and, to this day, can still be. At the time, Americans were boastful and often portrayed as the quintessential cowboy.
Being loud, obnoxious, and reacting with a sense of superiority, Christie portrayed Hardman well despite the high pitched voice. Class plays another pivotal role in most of Agatha Christies’ novels, and this book is no exception. However, class not only represents one’s financial well being, but also emotional. The servants are written as emotionally weaker characters than the upper and aristocratic passengers are. Several of the servants break into tears by the novel’s end. Many of the higher-class characters seem rather unmoved about the situation, as they are either independently wealthy, gainfully employed, or are not required to work.
Many seem to find it more of an inconvenience than a tragedy. It is mentioned that the Italian gentleman, Antonio Foscarelli, is the first to reveal the weight of the Armstrong kidnapping and murder (143). Mary Debenham even tells Poirot she does not tell people she was associated with the Armstrongs because she is worried about securing other jobs. While the train car consists of several passengers across nationalities and classes seemingly blending, the sense of separation still exists, as there is the working class and the aristocracy.
In spite of taking place on a train traversing Europe, America plays an important role in the novel. There are differing views of the United States being expressed throughout the novel by the passengers of the Orient Express based largely on stereotypes. The cast of characters traveling aboard the Orient Express is rather wide and varied, as such, most every passenger has firm opinions that they hold of others aboard. Many of these views seem informed not by experience but preconceived stereotypes about foreigners. The British are suspicious of the Americans, the French are at odds with the Italians. M.
Bouc proclaimed his views on Italians directly after the interviewing of Antonio Foscarelli, “‘He has been a long time in America, said M. Bouc, ‘and he is an Italian, and Italians use the knife! And they are great liars! I do not like Italians’” (144). These personality traits as being defined by their nationality are no more as possible as the ability to kill being defined by their nationality. These views are bigoted or prejudiced, but it is important to remember that most of the passengers are playing their respective roles in a plot to commit murder. They are adopting stereotypes about other countries in order to play heir parts more effectively. A fine example of this takes place with Mrs. Hubbard. Throughout the novel she is a brash, irritating American who grates on many around her with her parody of the typical American. It is only until much later in the novel that we see how much of this is truly an act in order to get by undetected. As an American, she chose to appear more of what foreigners deem “American” in order to truly throw off the sent that she could have anything to do with the murder. That very act itself reveals perceptions of nationality in Christies’ era.
In order to maintain the charade the passengers must act as someone of their class and nationality would to avoid suspicion. Amongst the social issues addressed in the novel, the insufficiency of the law in the United States drew my attention. Discussions of prohibition and laws pertaining to murder in the United States take place at various points in the novel. The former, when Poirot searches Hardman’s suitcase for evidence, his suitcase is lined with bottles of liquor. He responds rather casually that prohibition never really concerned him. Hardman openly discusses the topic of speakeasies with M.
Bouc. He is planning to conceal whatever alcohol remains by the time he gets to Paris; prohibition has not curbed his drinking habits. The entire novel, being centered around a man who brazenly murdered a three year old child and was acquitted is a very blunt commentary of the ineptitude and pitfalls of the legal system. In this world that Christie has created on this train, it is clear that the only justice the characters find that which they themselves dish out. Even when confronted with the murder, Mrs. Hubbard scoffs at the notion of charges and asks just what Poirot intends to do with her.
In her mind, it is clear, that unless he chooses to execute a punishment right then and there, she is in little fear of serious consequences. For twelve different individuals of such dramatically different backgrounds to come together to commit the murder of one individual is unheard of. However, it is also the perfect murder. The body of Ratchett, when discovered is riddled with twelve stab wounds. So that not one person could be considered the true murderer, all 12 suspects aided in the death of this murderer of children. Twelve people bridging class systems nd continents were able to see the extreme injustice of Ratchett’s escape from the American judicial system and chose to plan their own execution. However, the problem that arises is at what point is this justice being fulfilled and what point can this be considered a basic case of revenge? Every person who aided in the death of Ratchett had some tie to Daisy and the Armstrongs. A true jury of peers would be chosen for their objectivity and be removed for basic prejudices rather than the deep emotional connection that they all had to Daisy. A group arranged such as this would have none.
Some may argue that this correlation between the perpetrators and the victim deems it an obvious revenge scenario. Those involoved, however would disagree. Even Princess Dragomiroff refers to the death of the murder as being “strict justice”. The princess goes on to say that the murder was an “entirely admirable happening” which a murder rarely could ever be described as (117). However, if the murderers truly believed that not only were they doing justice for innumerable wrongs, but preventing the murder of more innocent children, the moral standing becomes a distinctively more indistinguishable line.
The murder of Daisy Armstrong and the subsequent acquittal of Ratchett (formerly Cassetti) is a further representation of the insufficiency of law in the United States. Ratchett utilized his great deal of wealth and power to evade prosecution after which he took to traveling the world with his fortune without receiving a legal punishment for his actions. This theme written in to a novel published in 1934 is still relevant today. This leads to yet another interesting social issue, that being the morality of murder. Is murder moral under the right circumstances?
In Murder on the Orient Express, the staff and family of Daisy Armstrong seek to kill Ratchett and succeed. He was found innocent in court; however, the conspirators were determined to kill him not only to punish him for his crime, but also to prevent him from hurting another child. The crime committed was heinous and Ratchett was certainly guilty of it. He escaped justice in the United States, and his freedom was seen as being dangerous to other children. Ratchett both in persona as well as in name is nothing more than a front for the true face of evil. Christie chooses to make a victim of Ratchett.
By doing so she brings up the idea of the deserving victim, a fate deserved. As such, the novel concludes that committing murder against an evil adversary is morally just. “ ‘There were other children before Daisy – there might be others in the future. Society had condemned him; we were only carrying out the sentence’ ” (264). Though society looked down on him, the census was clear that the legal judgement had been too lenient. In the end, the argument can be made that Poirot acted as morally or immorally as the twelve murderers did by releasing them without alerting authorities.
Ratchett is the embodiment of evil in this novel. From the first time Poirot sees Ratchett at the hotel he knows that he is a bad man, describing him as a wild animal. “ ‘The body – the cage – is everything of the most respectable – but through the bars, the wild animal looks out’ ” (17). From this Poirot is able to see past the facade to Ratchett’s true nature. While gathering evidence of the murder by questioning the passengers, Poirot tells each of them about the abduction and murder of Daisy Armstrong and Ratchett’s involvement, all of the passengers are outraged.
Ratchett thus becomes synonymous with evil and terror. The association of Ratchett and evil is intentional, as it allows the reader to have no sympathy for him. The passengers see it as their duty to defend the good and murder evil. In addition to the murder, Ratchett is an embodiment of greed. He accepted the exceedingly high ransom from Daisy’s family though fully knowing that he would kill her in the end. An individual being driven strictly by an urge to commit murder would have kidnapped her, never demanded a ransom, and killed her instantly in hopes to limit further evidence from being revealed.
It is in drawing out the kidnapping and demanding the money that we see that Ratchett is truly an embodiment of more than one type of evil. With Ratchett as the representation of evil, Daisy Armstrong is his counterpoint. She is the embodiment of purity and innocence. She is kidnapped and brutally murdered by an evil man for money. Within each interview conducted by Poirot in which he brings up her case, the grief and anger the interviewed passenger has can barely be contained. “ ‘Ah, she was an angel – a little sweet, trustful angel. She knew nothing but kindness and love – and she was taken away by that wicked man’ ” (245).
Ratchett had killed a pure person. In truth, he has killed innocence which surpasses the terrible, but clear murder of a person and takes it to a very different emotional state for those involved. Greta Ohlsson described how she rejoiced of the death of Ratchett. She had witnessed the dissolution of Daisy’s family, the demise that her murder had on them all, and the irreplaceable lost that was entirely Ratchett’s doing. In Antonio Foscarelli’s final interview with Piorot, he describes just how charming young Daisy was. “‘Why, that little one – she was the delight of the house. Tonio she called me.
And she would sit in the car and pretend to hold the wheel. All the household worshipped her”’ (244). This memory of such a pure, sweet child brings the Italian man to tears in front of Poirot. Agatha Christie effectively took her entire society, through her eyes, and infused the social issues around her into a captivating story of murder and intrigue. Through the use of caricatures, facades, and steretypes, the reader gets lost in a world contained entirely within a train where no one is what they seem and even when their true nature is discovered, the reader is able to delve deeper into what Christie chose to portray.
Themes of injustice and morality reign throughout the novel, questioning what is truly right and wrong. By playing on the innocence of the original victim, Daisy Armstrong, Christie created a situation in which the reader questions what they would do in that same situation. She successfully kept the attention of the reader while writing a political action piece at its very core.
Cite this Murder on the Orient Express
Murder on the Orient Express. (2016, Oct 30). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/murder-on-the-orient-express/