Agatha Christie examines the psychology of the island’s guests, as each deteriorates under the pressure of guilt and grave danger. At first, the guests hide their guilt not only from others but also from themselves. This is possible because their crimes are perceived as accidental and unintentional; a number are also passive-aggressive. Vera Claythorne, General MacArthur, Mr. Blore, Emily Brent, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, and Philip Lombard all deny any active agency in the deaths they are said to have caused. Instead, each could be said to have betrayed a trust by failing to act. For instance, Vera failed to stop the boy she looked after from swimming too far from shore; Mr. and Mrs. Rogers withheld needed medication; Emily Brent failed to demonstrate compassion for her maidservant; Mr. Blore and General Macarthur hid their crime under the rubric of duty.
While these characters maintain a show of innocence, however, their guilt emerges less consciously, through dreams or memories that undermine their self-assurance and certainty. Thoughts of their victims trouble a number of the guests. Emily feels haunted by the spirit of her servant; for Vera, the smell of the sea seems to summon the spirit of the drowned boy. These episodes point to the way in which guilt, even if denied by the rational faculties, can make its presence felt in other ways. Vera is tormented by her unbidden fantasies and memories to such an extent that she is no longer in her right mind by novel’s end. She readily cooperates with the suggestion of the nursery rhyme, hanging herself on the noose the judge has provided.
Related to the psychology of the guilty is the theme of exposure. The isolated island mansion is modern, flooded with light, indicating a venue in which all will be revealed. Each guest exposes a side far from rational and decent. Bestial metaphors suggest that, under duress, each has reverted to a primitive law of the jungle, participating in a war of all against all. This disturbing Darwinist vision is first articulated by Philip Lombard as a justification for his crime, but as the characters are reduced to their instincts for...
(The entire section is 871 words.)