(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Eight strangers are invited by a mysterious person named U. N. Owen to a luxurious mansion on an island off the coast of Devon. Waiting for them on the island are the housekeeping couple, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers. After dinner, the group hears a recording in which a disembodied voice exposes each of them as a murderer whose crime has has gone undetected and unpunished. Playboy Tony Marston is accused of driving recklessly and causing the deaths of two young people; Mr. and Mrs. Rogers are accused of murdering their aged employer by withholding medication from her; General Macarthur is accused of arranging for the death of a fellow officer; Emily Brent is blamed for the death of her maidservant; Justice Wargrave is blamed for sentencing a possibly innocent man to death; Dr. Armstrong is accused of killing a patient; former policeman William Blore is accused of knowingly sending an innocent man to prison, where he died; soldier of fortune Philip Lombard is accused of allowing native Africans to die of starvation; and former governess Vera Claythorne is blamed for the drowning death of a boy in her care.

The guests defend themselves, determined to preserve their status as acceptable members of English society. Lombard justifies the deaths of the natives in modern, social Darwinist terms, citing the law of self-preservation and the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race, while Blore asserts that he was simply doing his job. Armstrong admits his guilt, but uses his inebriated condition as an excuse. Marston insisted the deaths of the two young people were accidental.

Marston soon dies from drinking cyanide-laced whiskey. Justice Wargrave immediately takes command, suggesting one of the group is in fact “Mr. Owen,” who is toying with them sadistically. Comparing notes, they realize that none of them knows their host and that his name, U. N. Owen, translates into “unknown.” Shaken, the guests further reflect on the accusations against them. Rogers admits that he and his wife inherited money from the woman from whom they withheld medicine; his wife’s nervous demeanor further confirms their guilt. General Macarthur breaks down, admitting that the young man he sent to his certain death was his wife’s lover.

Ten figurines are arranged on the mansion’s dining room table, representations of the characters in a nursery rhyme that is also framed and hung in each guest’s...

(The entire section is 981 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Further Reading

Bargainnier, Earl F. The Gentle Art of Murder: The Detective Fiction of Agatha Christie. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1980. Examines And Then There Were None in a survey of setting, character, plot, narrative strategies, and themes; finds the novel most effective in its shifting of suspicion and its examination of guilt.

Light, Alison. Forever England: Femininity, Literature, and Conservatism Between the Wars. New York: Routledge, 1991. And Then There Were None is included in this highly regarded study of Christie’s fiction between World War I and World War II. Discusses the issue of the original title.

Miller, D. A. The Novel and the Police. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988. This groundbreaking new historicist study of Victorian detective fiction is crucial for understanding Christie’s later foray into the genre. It establishes the relationship between public and private life at the heart of the genre, a relationship at the center of Christie’s works, in which every character seems to harbor a secret.

Osborne, Charles. The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie. New York: St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2002. Discusses And Then There Were None, integrating aspects of Christie’s biography and personality, with emphasis on the nursery rhyme and on the novel’s composition. Includes illustrations.

Palmer, Scott. The Films of Agatha Christie. London: Batsford, 1993. Useful discussion of five different film adaptations of Christie’s And Then There Were None.

Wagstaff, Vanessa, and Stephen Poole. Agatha Christie: A Reader’s Companion. London: Aurum Press, 2004. Includes a summary of And Then There Were None that features background information and color photographs of the island that inspired the setting.

York, Richard. Agatha Christie: Power and Illusion. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Brilliant, groundbreaking study that includes And Then There Were None in an insightful examination of Christie’s mythic elements; narrative strategies; and explorations of illusion and reality, modern times, and the nature of evil.