And Then There Were None

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Justice Theme Analysis

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LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in And Then There Were None, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
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Mystery novels, of which Agatha Christie is often considered the queen, generally present a complex and confusing cast of characters that, through the efforts of the detective/narrator/reader become organized into groups of good and bad, black and white. Generally, there are one or two criminals and lots of victims. And Then There Were None never works out this neatly. Agatha Christie presents justice as an ambiguous concept. Who deserves punishment and how much? The criminal of And Then There Were None, Justice Wargrave, is a justice fanatic. He believes that because the guests on Soldier's Island all committed crimes for which they were never punished, they now deserve to be emotionally tortured and eventually killed. Even if someone were to agree that the ten criminals deserve such punishment, Wargrave's conception of justice is complicated by the fact that, in the name of justice, he commits a much graver crime than any of the other characters in the novel.

Agatha Christie demonstrates that since humans are inherently flawed, justice is too. The ten victims in And Then There Were None were able to get away with their crimes because of some flaw in the system: there wasn't enough proof, the crime happened far away in another country, the death was caused by some accidental carelessness that does not count as murder. Yet when they get to Soldier's Island they enter a sort of penal colony where justice all of a sudden becomes an extremely rigid concept. By presenting the arbiter of justice as a life-long death and legal obsessed maniac, Agatha Christie shows the danger in a simplistic view of justice. There is a reason that the system is flawed, that one is innocent before proven guilty. There is no perfect way to catch and punish every criminal, but breaking from the existing, flawed system is even more dangerous. At the end of the novel, when the house and island are strewn with dead bodies it is hard to believe that the best answer to murder is more murder.

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Justice ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Justice appears in each chapter of And Then There Were None. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Justice Quotes in And Then There Were None

Below you will find the important quotes in And Then There Were None related to the theme of Justice.
Chapter 1 Quotes

“Watch and pray,” he said. “Watch and pray. The day of judgment is at hand.”

Related Symbols: The Storm
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Blore speaks to an old stranger on the train. The man warns him of an impending storm, both physical and metaphorical.

The dialogue here enters a prophetic and spiritual tone. The repetition of the phrase “Watch and pray” combined with the commanding statements casts the old man as a sort of oracle. By his account, Mr. Blore should prepare himself for the trying events ahead. This oracular tone is corroborated by the idea of “the day of judgment”: a Christian belief in the return of Christ. According to that theological belief, the second coming of the messiah will cause a world-wide judgement of sinners. The old man applies this religious belief to Mr. Blore and implicitly to the other character’s in the novel — contending that they will meet their own trial.

This man’s presence poses a deeper question on fate and destiny within the novel. Although the murders to come are ultimately the result of human action, they often appear to have taken place due to divine intervention. That sense is primarily the result of the internal symbolic coherence of the text: Various images and lines predict what will transpire, giving the novel a sense of inevitability. Christie thus poses the question of whether the characters ultimately deserve their fates for having sinned before—and whether their murders are cruel or a twisted form of justice.


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Chapter 2 Quotes

The faded blue eyes, shrewd in spite of their age, sized up Lombard. For a moment a judgment showed in them – had there been anyone to read it.

Related Characters: Philip Lombard (speaker), Vera Claythorne, Philip Lombard
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

As they wait for their taxi, Vera meets Lombard. She examines him closely, and both characters reveal deep skepticism of the other.

This interaction foreshadows the way that different characters will try to analyze each other’s behaviors and actions. Without any rationale, Vera is already paranoid about Lombard, while he similarly questions her role as a secretary. Their suspicions function as an analogy for what the reader of Christie’s novel is doing: gathering information about new characters to try to ultimately determine a suspect. Indeed her reference to “had there been anyone to read it” is a subtle wink to the novel’s reader—who, unlike the characters, can interpret such signals.

Christie's use of the word “them” is notably vague: it could refer to either Lombard or Vera’s eyes. In the first case, Vera would be seeing the judgment in Lombard’s eyes, while in the second, she would be revealing her own judgment. In a sense, both readings are correct, and Christie therefore uses a clever linguistic trick to establish an environment of deep suspicion and uncertainty among the characters, and even in the language of the text itself.

Chapter 4 Quotes

“Whoever it was who enticed us here, that person knows or has taken the trouble to find out a good deal about us all”

Related Characters: Justice Wargrave (speaker)
Page Number: 63-64
Explanation and Analysis:

The characters continue to pool information on their host. Wargrave observes how much the host has learned about the invitees.

Wargrave's comment shifts the attention away from the host and back to the other characters. Instead of trying to ascertain more about the person who invited them, he characterizes the host with a flippant “whoever” and instead focuses on the “good deal about us all” that has been uncovered. Wargrave implies that there is a specific reason why each character has been brought to the island and that the host deeply researched their histories in order to do so. Much like Soldiers Island’s notorious past, the characters themselves may have personal histories they hope not to divulge. In this way, Wargrave presents the host as a kind of analog to a detective or jury—someone who has uncovered facts about characters who (we will eventually learn) are all guilty in some way. Christie thus blurs the delineations between criminal and victim by making both host and visitors play both roles.

Chapter 6 Quotes

We're not going to leave the island … None of us will ever leave … It's the end, you see – the end of everything …”
He hesitated, then he said in a low strange voice:
“That's peace – real peace. To come to the end – not to have to go on … Yes, peace …”

Related Characters: General John Gordon Macarthur (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Island
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

When Lombard and Blore discuss the potential arrival of a motorboat, Macarthur makes this pronouncement. He believes they will all die on Soldiers Island.

This passage shows the bizarre psychological effect that the events on Soldiers Island have on different characters. Whereas some try to staunchly defy their imminent demise, Macarthur accepts his fate. His tone here is not one of desperation: Rather, his “low strange voice” implies a calm acceptance of what will transpire. Indeed, he comes to see his demise as a form of “peace”: a peace not just from life but more specifically from the guilty existence he has lived since committing his murder. Though some may interpret these beliefs to be the manic ravings of the psychologically disturbed, they also imply that Macarthur is coming to terms with his own guilt. Thus Christie presents the story as a tale of repentance for these characters, in which the bizarre set-up of Soldier’s Island forces them to reconcile with their crimes.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“The damned fool, he believed every word I said to him. It was easy … I must be careful, though, very careful.”

Related Characters: Justice Wargrave (speaker), Dr. Edward Armstrong
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

While eating breakfast, the characters continue to panic about the murderer. Scraps of interior dialogue mix into the text, one of which seems to come from the murderer’s own mind.

Christie uses an innovative narrative style to generate dramatic tension. Though the novel has previously plunged into the interior psyches of the characters, here she declines to identify whose mind each line of text is in. This line, for instance, could perhaps be spoken by the murderer: for he would consider Rogers to be a “damned fool” and to have been easily manipulated. Or perhaps it references the syringe that has just been taken from Dr. Armstrong in order to kill Miss Brent in the ensuing scene. Similarly, he would want to be “be careful” about his future killings. This sentence thus confirms that the murderer is one of the guests who is still alive, instead of an additional character hiding on the island. Furthermore, by not making the thinker of this statement clear, Christie puts the reader in an analogous position to one of the guests at the table: able to presume that the guilty person is among them while lacking the capacity to identify just who that is.

Chapter 12 Quotes

“One more of us acquitted – too late!”

Related Characters: Justice Wargrave (speaker)
Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:

Miss Brent is discovered dead in the kitchen. In response, Wargrave makes this exclamation about how she is now innocent.

The reference to being “acquitted” actually has a double meaning in this sentence. It refers most directly to the fact that Miss Brent could not be the murderer since she has been killed. But it also refers to her earlier crime that has brought her to the island in the first place. Wargrave implies, then, that Miss Brent has been “acquitted” from her own crime by herself dying. So her murder becomes an act of ethical justice. Yet the fact that it is “too late” implies that each of the characters must die in order to doubly absolve themselves: of both suspicion for the murders committed on Soldiers Island and of guilt for what they have previously done. In this way, the text makes an odd parallel between being acquitted and dying, implying that the only "justice" for these characters can come in their demise.

Chapter 13 Quotes

There was little pretense now – no formal veneer of conversation. They were five enemies linked together by a mutual instinct of self-preservation.

And all of them, suddenly, looked less like human beings. They were reverting to more bestial types.

Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

After Miss Brent’s murder, the social bonds between the characters start to erode. They think of each other only as enemies and suspicions creep ever higher.

This passage demonstrates the way in which social forces are undermined in extreme circumstances. Though the guests have all previously tried to maintain normal practices—mealtimes, conversations, etc.—here they abandon that “formal veneer.” This phrase casts “conversation” as itself a showy luxury, in contrast to the “self-preservation” that must now predominate. For all its poetic and symbolic artifice, Soldiers Island actually signals a return to more basic forms of human interaction. It becomes a site to play out human psychology in its most anxious and ungrounded state.

Christie draws attention in particular to the difference between human and animal behavior. She contrasts the characters’ previous decorum with their current “more bestial types,” implying that the their identities have corroded, become more animal0like, under psychological stress. Thus even as the characters are charged as humans for their crimes, they are described in increasing animalistic terms.

Chapter 14 Quotes

They'd believe her all right. Cyril often told stories. He was an untruthful child. Cyril would know, of course. But that didn't matter … and anyway nothing would go wrong. She'd pretend to swim out after him. But she'd arrive too late … Nobody would ever suspect …
Had Hugo suspected? Was that why he had looked at her in that queer far-off way? … Had Hugo known?

Related Characters: Vera Claythorne (speaker)
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

Alone in her room, Vera remembers the events leading up to Cyril’s death. She recalls worrying that her murder attempt would be unsuccessful.

This interior monologue marks a decisive shift in Vera’s character. Whereas before the reader has only scant knowledge about the crime she has committed, here the true nature of her murder becomes horrifyingly clear: She was responsible for the death of a child. Even more alarmingly, what she recalls is not guilt or uncertainty about the crime—but rather fear of being caught. Thus Vera’s previously sympathetic character becomes increasingly diabolical, perhaps even deserving of the murder that, at this point in the novel, seems like it might possibly be her fate.

Even so, Vera seems to now be experiencing remorse for what she has done. That she was previously able to exclude these thoughts from the narrative shows how the events transpiring at Soldiers Island are causing her mindset to shift. She is increasingly forced to confront the nature of her crime, pointing to the efficacy of host’s plan to bring the characters to moral justice.

Chapter 15 Quotes

“But don't you see, he's mad? It's all mad! The whole thing of going by the rhyme is mad! Dressing up the judge, killing Rogers when he was chopping sticks – drugging Mrs. Roberts so that she overslept herself – arranging for a bumble bee when Miss Brent died! It's like some horrible child playing a game. It's all got to fit in.”

Related Characters: Vera Claythorne (speaker), Justice Wargrave, Thomas Rogers, Ethel Rogers
Page Number: 248
Explanation and Analysis:

Blore and Lombard continue to fixate on the revolver, but Vera becomes frustrated with their narrow-mindedness. She argues that each of the murders must fit into the ten little soldiers nursery rhyme in some way.

Vera’s impassioned tone shows how a sense of desperation has sunk into the characters at this point. Overwhelmed with false clues and misinformation, they have become increasingly disoriented and uncertain in how to proceed. Ironically, Vera exclaims repeatedly about madness even as she herself is becoming less mentally hinged. She thus comes to mimic the manic role of the murderer, a pattern followed by many of the characters.

Perhaps due to this increased similarity, her assertions actually interpret quite accurately the murderer’s intentions. Whereas Blore and Lombard are focused on traditional symbols in a murder case like the revolver, Vera is attentive to the specific conditions of this event. She correctly links each murder to a line in the poem and demands that each event has “got to fit in” to the metaphorical whole. That Christie makes symbolic interpretation of the poem the key to solving the murder further renders Vera an analog to a good reader of the novel.

Epilogue 1 Quotes

“And therefore, sir, there must have been someone else on the island. Someone who tidied up when the whole business was over. But where was he all the time – and were did he go to? The Sticklehaven people are absolutely certain that no one could have left the island before the rescue boat got there. But in that case –”

“But in that case,” he said, “who killed them?”

Page Number: 283-284
Explanation and Analysis:

In the tale’s first epilogue, Assistant Commissioner Sir Thomas Legge and Inspector Maine discuss the murders. They observe that someone remained alive after Vera’s death and wonder who this could have been.

Their discussion adds a further complication to the story: Though the reader likely thinks at this point that Vera is the murderer, the fact that someone “tidied up” means that there must have been an additional presence on the island after the events of the previous sixteen chapters. Though this observation confirms Vera’s feelings before that she was being watched, it also makes the progression of events increasingly difficult to figure out.

Recall that the characters were absolutely certain, after searching the island, that one of them had to be the murderer. Christie is playing here with the conventions of a normal detective or mystery story: Generally the criminal is revealed at the end of the story and certainly by the end of an epilogue. But here, the epilogue only features two people trying to put together the details of the murders just as the reader is, with the addition of even more contradictory information.