Because it is largely a psychological novel, Ten Little Indians builds its themes around primal, instinctive drives. As in all crime novels, the effects of guilt and paranoia are primary themes. Christie's most remarkable achievement with this novel is to have her characters experience these psychological states in such extreme form. By isolating guilty people on an island and placing a murderer in their midst, Christie gives herself the opportunity not only to explore states of mind but also to allow them to drive the plot of her novel.
Even before U. N. Owen's voice is heard announcing the crimes of Indian Island's ten inhabitants, Christie hints at their guilt. When she first describes Vera Claythorne, sitting in the third-class carriage of a train bound for Devon, the nearness of her destination to the sea reminds her of Cyril, the boy she allowed to drown, and Hugo, the lover she killed for. Subsequent sketches of Phillip Lombard and General Macarthur allude to their involvement in shady exploits and the Great War, respectively, the vocations in which they acted to take another's life. When the record is heard, Mrs. Rogers's reaction to the announcement of her guilt is so strong that she faints, giving the murderer an opportunity to slip her the poison that kills her. The physical manifestation of her guilt, then, acts as more than a thematic concern; it is also a fact driving the plot forward.
The most explicit manifestation of...
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Appearances and Reality
The focus on appearance versus reality appears throughout the novel in the form of the underlying theme of deception. All the characters deceive others and sometimes themselves about their true natures. All profess to be good, but in reality are filled with evil in the form of moral corruption caused by intolerance, jealousy, greed, and desire. The action begins under a cloud of deception when Judge Wargrave, under the guise of the mysterious Mr. Owen, lures the group to Indian Island. The deception continues after the voice on the recording accuses each of a crime and they all deny any responsibility. Wargrave’s confession reveals the final deception when he exposes his faked murder and his own true nature.
Fear of Death
As soon as bodies start appearing on the island, the remaining guests are enveloped by the fear of death. Their instincts for survival cause them to sus- pect each other. As a result their primitive instincts emerge: Wargrave’s mouth turns “cruel and predatory,” Lombard’s smile resembles that of a wolf, and Blore appears “coarser and clumsier” with “a look of mingled ferocity and stupidity about him.”
Guilt and Innocence The novel ties the question of the characters’ guilt or innocence to the theme of appearance versus reality. At the beginning of their stay on the island, all the guests claim to be innocent. Some insist their crimes were committed by accident. Tony Marston explains that the accident that caused the deaths...
(The entire section is 630 words.)