(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

All the characters of Christie's novel seem to reflect concerns raised by life in civilized society, some of them universal, some of them peculiar to Christie's historical moment. They make the reader aware that, like the characters stranded on Indian Island, we, as members of an organized society of institutions, must also live with each other, and with the consequences of other individuals' actions.

Two characters represent the institution of law: Justice Wargrave and Henry Blore. Their actions warn the reader of the consequences of a legal system, or individual keepers of the law, gone mad. Blore and Wargrave are both accused by the voice of Owen of using their power to manipulate the law and send innocent men to their deaths. A society of laws run by individuals always runs this risk: that personal feelings will inspire those who uphold the law to act outside it.

Vera Claythorne's character also calls attention to a certain risk inherent in a societal institution. As a nanny, Vera was entrusted with a family's most prized possession, its child. So confident was the child's mother in the competency of her nanny that when the boy drowned she held Vera above suspicion. Her confidence, however, was unfounded. Moved by love for Cyril's cousin Hugo, Vera conspired to send the child on a swim from which he would certainly not return. Today child care is in a crisis. Few working families can afford the best facilities, and abuses are constantly unveiled. The character of Vera shows that the moral fiber of those who care for children was no less a concern in Christie's day than it is today.

Another concern of Christie's day that remains relevant is the guilt pervading Western societies as a result of the industrialized world's exploitation of its former colonies. Phillip Lombard's crime calls attention to this guilt. His murder was not of one man or, as with Vera Claythorne, of a child. Instead, Lombard admits to being responsible for the deaths of twenty-one people. Though his escape from the bush cost his native guides their lives, Lombard feels not guilt but a sense of pride when he remembers the sticky situation. He rationalizes his act by asserting that self-preservation is more important than self-sacrifice and that natives do not fear death as Europeans do. His callous racism inspires contempt in his fellow captives (except Emily Brent) and, hopefully, in the reader. It is important to remember, however, that blatant disregard for the lives of native peoples did not always inspire such disgust in the common British subject. With the turn of the century came a franker look at the problems of colonization. Christie, through Lombard, highlights both the...

(The entire section is 1097 words.)