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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
Although in the genre of mystery, this book uses complex literary tools to construct a sophisticated plot. Foreshadowing and irony are employed liberally, and the author reveals each characterís true past gradually so that the reader could imagine any one of the characters as the antagonist. Several Themes are explored, including guiltís effect on people. Finally, the plot has key turning points and a critical twist that add to the suspense and tension of this brilliant book.
Foreshadowing is a powerful tool used by the author to heighten suspense, gives clues to the plot, and build tension. One of the first examples of this literary tool is when a strange old man warns Blore in the first chapter that the judgment day is close at hand. This foreshadows Bloreís imminent death and the end of normalcy for all the characters on Indian Island.
Perhaps the most powerful foreshadowing used in the book is the introduction of the "Ten Little Indians" nursery rhyme. Vera Claythorne first discovers it in her room, and thinks it is nothing more than a clever connection to the name of the island, "Indian Island." But the reader knows better, as the rhyme describes how ten Indians are killed one by one until the last hangs himself and none are left.
From the title of the book, "And Then There Were None," the connection to the fate of the ten people on the island is obvious to the reader. Later in the plot when Vera discovers the black hook on her ceiling from which the seaweed that scared her must have hung, it gives her an uneasy feeling; this foreshadows the noose that will hang from the same hook at the end of the book, enticing Vera to end her own life.
Irony is used in the charactersí attempts to identify the murderer among themselves. For instance, it is ironic that as the other characters all discuss Emily Brent as the possible killer, she lies in another room already murdered. As Justice Wargrave asserts, it is only the dead who can be cleared of suspicion.
Later in the plot, Lombard and Vera discuss Blore as suspicious and dangerous, yet are shocked to discover his crushed body moments later. Finally, Lombard and Vera assume that the missing doctor must be the villain, only to find his drowned body together and realize one of the two of them has to be the murderer. This use of irony adds to the plotís suspense since it shows that the characters cannot escape their fate by reasoning out who the murderer is; they are always wrong in their guesses.
The author gradually builds each characterís past crime history for the reader; this entices the reader to read on and allows him/her to believe that each the characters are suspect of being the killer. The author builds suspense in the charactersí explanations of their alleged murders, for example. Lombardís admission of guilt in leaving the natives to starve and his lack of remorse is chilling, and Marstonís focus on his own inconvenience rather than regret for his accident victims is disturbing.
The characters also begin to view each other more accurately as more facts are revealed. Emily Brentís cold declaration that Mrs. Rogers must have been struck dead by Godís judgment changes everyoneís view of Miss Brent as a pious and harmless old woman. Blore paints the innocent- seeming Rogers as a husband concerned only with his own fate, willing to kill his wife to keep her quiet. Even while Lombard, Dr. Armstrong, and Blore are combing the island for the unknown killer, everyone continues to view each other suspiciously. The doctor doubts General Macarthurís sanity, Blore suspects Lombard for bringing a gun to the island, and Blore dislikes how furtively Rogers moved from being outside to tiptoeing around his dead wifeís bedroom.
In this way, the characters set the stage for the inevitable conclusion that one of them must be the murderer. In another revelation of character, the seaweed trick played on Vera is significant in that it shows just how troubled and obsessed she is with her past sin of drowning a young boy. The mere smell of the sea sends her into a trance, and she remembers the incident. Moreover, the enormity of her fear causes her to believe that seaweed on her neck is a human hand trying to harm her.
The first important turning point in the plot is when the characters admit to each other that their unknown host, U.N. Owen, is not playing a strange joke on them but is intent on murdering them all. This acknowledgement comes after two have already died. When Anthony Marston is poisoned and Mrs. Rogers dies in her sleep, the guests assume the deaths were suicide and natural death and their proximity to each other a strange coincidence. Yet Marstonís vigor and zest for life makes suicide hard to believe and Mrs. Rogers had no known heart problem. The ten Indian figures that disappear one by one as well as the correspondence between the Indians poem and the manner of the two deaths so far convince the remaining characters that their hidden host is engaged in foul play.
The second important turning point in the plot is when the characters realize that the murderer is one of them, not an unknown assailant hidden on the island somewhere. This acknowledgment adds to the suspense, as they realize they have been socializing with an insane killer all along. The subtle doubting of othersí motives now turns into full-scale fear and suspicion, and no one can trust anyone else. The judge continues in his leadership role in the group, helping them come to the same logical conclusions he offers. His insistence that all seven remaining people are equally under suspicion is a critical building block for the rest of the book, in which the characters will continue to doubt each other equally as the possible murderer.
Guiltís effect on the characters is one major theme of the book. Well into the plot, Vera fantasizes about keeping herself locked in her bedroom in order to survive murder. Yet her primary fear of doing so is not food, water, or toilet needs; it is that she doubts she could stay by herself with nothing to do but think. This shows that her past still haunts her, so much so that she would rather be among the others and the unknown killer than face hour after hour of her own memories and guilt. Bloreís thought pattern in that same chapter is also revealing: While attempting to solve the question of the missing revolver, which is critical for him to stay alive, Blore cannot help but remember the face of Landor, the falsely accused criminal he helped to convict. He remembers Landorís wife and daughter and worries about their fate after Landor died in prison. The fact that Blore thinks of his past sin at a time when his own life is in danger demonstrates the power of guilt, a theme of the book.
Another incident in which this theme is explored is when Vera mentions the possibility of heavenly visitors as the murderer. Lombard tells her it is her guilty conscience imagining such impossibilities. Veraís suicide also highlights the theme of guiltís effect on people. In her case, the effect is profound, driving her to a psychotic belief that Hugo, her lover and uncle of the child she murdered, is waiting for her in her room and wants her to end her life. She also feels haunted by the dead child, Cyril, connecting the hook from which the rope hangs to the previous incident of hanging seaweed, which she mistook for Cyrilís cold, wet hand on her throat. That she dropped the last Indian figure and broke it is evidence to the reader that she will indeed follow the suggestion of the noose and hang herself.
The final section of the book serves as the solution to the mystery for the reader. Justice Wargrave meticulously details his purpose for the murders as well as his plan for executing them. Here we discover the central hook to the mystery: Wargrave enticed Dr. Armstrong into a pact, supposedly to find the real killer, and the two only pretended Wargrave was dead when he was first shot. Wargrave then double-crossed the doctor and remained alive and hidden to finish off the remaining characters before cleverly ending his own life in a way that made it impossible for detectives to name him the murderer. This twist in the plot is what makes the book one of Agatha Christieís most acclaimed mysteries.