And Then There Were None presents two kinds of guilt: personal and legal. The majority of the characters in the novel are people who have escaped the latter but are plagued by the former. Justice Wargrave understands the power of personal guilt as shown by the fact that he guesses Vera will kill herself when she is the last one left on the island. Yet he does not believe that a sense of personal guilt is enough. Wargrave cannot stand that these people have not been declared guilty by a court of law. Agatha Christie, on the other hand, shows that the self-inflicted punishment that comes from personal guilt is often even more painful than any sentence given by the law. For example, General Macarthur wishes death upon himself because he cannot handle his guilt-ridden any longer and Vera is constantly plagued by dreams and visions of the little boy she killed for the man she loved. Agatha Christie demonstrates that guilt is not only doled out by a jury, but rather, like justice, it is a complicated concept that involves human flaws and inconsistencies.
Through Miss Emily Brent, the novel also presents a religious view of guilt. Brent's solid belief in God, and her belief that she is always in God's good graces, means that she is incapable of feeling guilty. Her understanding of guilt is similar to Wargrave's understanding of justice: Brent believes that she is not guilty because she killed a sinning woman, and Wargrave believes that he can cause ten murders if it is in the name of justice. Both of these characters show how guilt can be defined by one's own personal moral and legal system. The guests on Soldier's Island have been able to survive for so long with their own guilt because they come up with various definitions of right and wrong to pardon themselves. For example, Anthony Marston thinks that he ran over those children accidentally so it doesn't matter – everyone has their own way to cope with guilt. The central question at the end of the novel is “who is guilty?” Is Wargrave guilty because he killed ten people? Or was he only following his duty as a servant of the law? Did the guests of Soldier's Island deserve their fate, were they guilty enough to deserve death no matter what? These answers depend on the reader's highly subjective understanding of guilt.
Guilt Quotes in And Then There Were None
“Watch and pray,” he said. “Watch and pray. The day of judgment is at hand.”
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.
He might have noticed that a curious constraint came over the other members of the party. It was as though the mention of their host and hostess had a curiously paralyzing effect on the guests.
He thought: Best of an island is once you get there – you can't go any farther … you've come to the end of things …
He knew, suddenly, that he didn't want to leave the island.
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 …”
“I mean – it explains Soldier Island. There are crimes that cannot be brought home to their perpetrators. Instance the Rogerses'. Another instance, old Wargrave, who committed his murder strictly within the law.”
“Your argument seems logical. I agree that one of us is possessed by a devil.”
“I know very well that I'm not the murderer, and I don't fancy there's anything insane about you, Vera. You strike me as being one of the sanest most levelheaded girls I've come across. I'd stake my reputation on your sanity.
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.
Philip Lombard's senses seemed heightened, rather than diminished. His ears reacted to the slightest sound. His step was lighter and quicker, his body lithe and graceful. And he smiled often, his lips curling back from his long white teeth.
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?
“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.”
I was born with other traits besides my romantic fancy. I have a definite sadistic delight in seeing or causing death.
I have wanted – let me admit frankly – to commit a murder myself. I recognized this as the desire of the artist to express himself! I was, or could me, an artist in crime! My imagination, sternly checked by the exigencies of my profession, waxed secretly to colossal force.
When the sea goes down, there will come from the mainland boats and men.
And they will find ten dead bodies and an unsolved problem on Soldier Island.