The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

by Agatha Christie

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Is The Murder of Roger Ackroyd a social critique disguised as a murder mystery?

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd can be seen as a social critique in the guise of a murder mystery because it exposes how Mrs. Ferrars uses money to cover up murdering her husband. It critiques, as well, the willingness of her blackmailer to put his desire for money ahead of justice and decency. Meanwhile, the secret marriage of the servant Ursula Bourne and Ralph Paton reveals a class system that fosters subterfuge and deception.

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd critiques a class system in which money and status allows people to get away with murder, and the class divides means that secrets must be kept.

We find out in the novel that Mrs. Ferrars, a wealthy young widow, commits suicide after killing her husband through slowly poisoning him. Had she been a poorer person, she would have been tried for the murder of her husband and convicted, but because she is rich, she is able to pay blackmail money to keep her crime quiet. Dr. Sheppard knows what really happened but would rather collect her hush money than expose what he knows so that justice can be served. He is also willing to murder Ackroyd when he fears his blackmailing will become public knowledge. Sheppard's status as a doctor and a member of the upper classes helps shield him from being suspected as a criminal.

When Roger Ackroyd is murdered, the initial response of the upper-class characters is to suspect someone from the lower classes. The lower classes are not responsible for the murder, but Poirot's investigations expose a marriage that has been kept secret because it crossed class lines: the servant, Ursula Bourne, has married the upper-class Ralph Paton. Bourne, too, is more easily suspected of murder based on her perceived lower-class status.

Christie, as she often does in her mysteries, critiques a world in which money and status matter more than justice or open and honest human relationships.

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Discuss "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" as a detective story.

This 1926 Christie mystery is considered a classic in the murder mystery genre. It is a breakthrough story in being told in the first-person voice of the murderer himself, leading to a surprise ending. It was voted the best crime story of all time in 2013 by the British Crime Writers' Association.

Christie achieves the extraordinary feat of having the story told by the murderer, Dr. James Sheppard, without Sheppard revealing outright that he committed the crime. She has him give us enough clues to suspect he is the perpetrator but also uses the literary device of elision, in which he elides or leaves out clues, while at the same time he provides enough information that if we were not primed by literary convention to believe the narrator of the tale could not also be the murderer, we might suspect him of the crime. In simpler language, we simply don't expect the person telling the story of a murder to be the murderer unless he tells us so outright, which Sheppard does not do.

For an example of elision, Sheppard discusses looking at curios in a curio case at Roger Ackroyd's before eating dinner with him and other guests at his home. Sheppard even mentions lifting the glass lid of the case, but doesn't mention seeing or removing what turns out to be the murder weapon: that crucial fact is elided or left out, leaving it to the reader to do the infill.

For writing a paper on this novel, I would focus on the way that Christie uses readers' expectations of narrative convention against us. We don't, for example, expect first-person narrators to be murderers, and we don't expect Sheppard to leave out important facts about a murder case that is the central subject of his story. Christie is able to mislead us as readers by defying our expectations.

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