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THEMES / THEME ANALYSIS
Taking Justice into One’s Own Hands
Administering justice where justice had been neglected is the primary motive for Justice Wargrave’s mass murder scheme, and one of the major Themes of this book. When they first arrive on Indian Island, all ten characters are accused of directly or indirectly killing someone in the past, actions for which they eluded consequences.
At the conclusion of the book, Wargrave explains that he collected his victims over time by asking various people if they knew of such cases of neglected justice. His plot, delusional and insane as it may have been, stemmed from a misguided desire to bring justice to those who had committed murders without any penalty from the law. His murders were, in a sense, elaborately disguised executions. As a judge by vocation, Wargrave had an even greater feeling of authority to take justice into his own hands in a personal way, since he had been in fact entrusted with carrying out justice in a professional way.
Guilt’s Effect on People
The author reveals the inner thoughts of each character throughout the book, carefully demonstrating how each is obsessed with his or her past crime. The theme of guilt’s effect on people is demonstrated in how the characters’ obsession with their murder increases to the level of hysteria, hallucinations, and/or delusions over the course of the book. Those who survive the longest exhibit the greatest change in their psychological state.
Emily Brent, for example, suffers periodic delusional thoughts about the servant she drove to suicide; first Miss Brent writes in her diary that the girl is the murderer among them, then she imagines it is the girl coming up from the river where she drowned while in reality the murderer is about to inject her with poison. Although part of the characters’ mounting paranoia stems from the fear of being murdered by the unknown assassin among them, it is significant that a number of the characters dwell more and more on their past sin rather than devise clever ways to avoid death. This shows that guilt has, to some degree, numbed even their instinct for survival. Vera Claythorne’s willful suicide demonstrates this most acutely, as she imagines that her lost love, Hugo, would want her to end her own life. This shows that while denying any guilt or regret for letting Hugo’s nephew drown, in reality Vera understands the blood on her hands and Hugo’s reason for leaving her.
Appearances are Deceiving
All ten guests on Indian Island seemed on the outside to be respectable and sane people. One of them, however, was a madman intent on murdering the others. Ironically, the killer, Justice Wargrave, was one of the more professional guests who aroused minimal suspicion in the group. He initiated group meetings and acted as leader to further mask his murderous plan.
Several of the others who were widely suspected proved their innocence by becoming Wargrave’s victims. For example, the group suspects Emily Brent because of her "religious mania" and cold-heartedness toward others’ misfortune. This shows that benevolent appearances can hide inner evil and that suspicious exteriors can mask innocence within. Another example of this theme in the book is how everyone seems normal to each other at the start, until their past crimes are revealed to all. After hearing murder allegations against seemingly respectable people, the characters begin to perceive the true character behind each guests’ outward mask of decency.
POINT OF VIEW
The point of view of the book is that of the third-person narrator. This point of view is essential for the plot since all ten characters must be and must remain equally suspected as the mastermind of the murders. If any one character were chosen to narrate, the reader would become biased, favorably or negatively, toward that character and the level of suspense would decrease. It is only in the final segment of the story that the murderer, Justice Wargrave, reveals his scheme in a first- person letter to the authorities.