Death on the Nile is a novel in which the villains are undone by their own greed. It is also a novel in which many characters, including its protagonist, Hercule Poirot, act for no reason other than the general benefit of humanity. Many characters have elements of both traits: they are generous in some ways but selfish in others. Some, like Linnet Doyle, even find a way to mix the two, turning generosity into its own kind of selfishness, without even realizing it. By exploring the range of selfishness and generosity in its characters, the novel suggests that these traits can’t always be neatly separated, as people have the capacity to mix them in complicated ways.
Linnet is outwardly generous and is always looking to help others with her intelligence and wealth. And yet, the novel hints and later makes clear that she is, in fact, profoundly selfish, demonstrating how selfishness isn’t necessarily straightforward. Linnet thinks of herself as a helper, but an early exchange with Joanna Southwood hints at the selfishness hiding beneath her generosity. Joanna mentions a maid whose relationship Linnet disrupted and some housing that Linnet razed—and in each case, Linnet explained how she did what she did for the maid’s and the residents’ own benefit. Her generosity is domineering, founded on selfish sense that she knows what’s best for everyone else. That deeper selfishness is revealed when Linnet takes Simon from Jacqueline. Poirot suggests as much when he compares Linnet’s behavior in taking Simon to the actions of the Biblical story of a rich man who takes a poor man’s only lamb. Linnet’s angry denial of the charge—that she was doing both Jacqueline and Simon a favor by breaking up a couple that wasn’t meant to be—follows her normal playbook of pretending her selfish actions are generous, and not even realizing that she’s done so. That her selfish explanation of how she ended up with Simon is, in fact, proved wrong by the end of the novel demonstrates the dangers of such self-involvement.
Simon, in contrast, is almost purely selfish. He is charming and simple but deeply desires to live a life of wealth and ease, and he thinks nothing of using others to achieve those ends. Simon uses both of the women in the novel who love him: he encourages Jacqueline to mastermind a plot that will result in him ending up with Linnet’s money, and he repeatedly allows Jacqueline to put herself at risk in order to protect him. Meanwhile, Simon tricks Linnet into thinking that he loves her, and he marries her with the express interest of murdering her so that he will inherit her money. By the end of the novel, it’s clear that Simon’s selfishness makes him an unsympathetic character. His death is presented in the novel as not only just, but in fact a kinder end than he deserved.
By contrast, Poirot is one of the most selfless characters in the story, and he offers a model for what the novel suggests ideal generosity should look like. Poirot states on a number of occasions that his purpose in talking to various characters or in solving the murder is to benefit humanity. Poirot then backs up this claim in a variety of ways. He never accepts a commission from Linnet, and neither is he professionally employed as a detective. His motivation in the case, both before and after Linnet is murdered, are entirely his own. He senses the possibility of Jacqueline’s dark path and tries to talk her out of it, and he takes on solving the murder for no reason but to solve it. He discovers both Tim’s forgery crimes and Tim’s growing love for Rosalie and gives Tim the opportunity to reform. He even finds a way to ease Jacqueline’s punishment. Over and over again, Poirot seeks to help others, whether through counsel, the search for the truth, or mercy offered along with justice. Even Poirot, however, is not a complete saint. He is vain and takes great pleasure in being recognized for his cleverness, which slightly undercuts his altruistic motives. In the end, though, Poirot’s selfishness is little more than an eccentricity. Rather than being blind to it, as Linnet is, he is well aware of it. Linnet puts on a show of generosity, which covers a selfish core. Poirot enjoys the limelight, but time and again shows a generosity of spirit.
Like virtually all mystery writers, Christie had a keen interest in motivation. Self-interest is frequently the cause of crimes, both in stories and in real life. But self-interest alone is not enough to explain the actions of a character like Hercule Poirot, who is clearly motivated by something else. By looking at how selfishness and generosity intermingle, Christie created villains in her story with realistic motivations—as well as a hero with a realistic motivation for solving the crime.
Selfishness and Generosity ThemeTracker
Selfishness and Generosity Quotes in Death on the Nile
“That’s her!” said Mr. Burnaby, the landlord of the Three Crowns.
He nudged his companion.
The two men stared with round bucolic eyes and slightly open mouths.
A big scarlet Rolls-Royce had just stopped in front of the local post office.
“She cares too much, that little one,” he said to himself. It is not safe. No, it is not safe.”
Hercule Poirot made vague gestures to rid himself of this human cluster of flies. Rosalie stalked through them like a sleepwalker. “It’s best to pretend to be deaf and blind,” she remarked.
The infantile riff-raff ran alongside murmuring plaintively:
“Bakshish? Bakshish? Hip hip hurrah-very good, very nice. . . .”
Poirot signalled to a passing waiter.
“A liqueur, Madame? A chartreuse? A creme de menthe?” Mrs. Otterbourne shook her head vigorously.
“No, no. I am practically a teetotaller. You may have noticed I never drink anything but water-or perhaps lemonade. I cannot bear the taste of spirits.”
“It is deeper than that. Do not open your heart to evil.”
“My dear Monsieur Poirot—how can I put it? It’s like the moon when the sun comes out. You don’t know it’s there anymore. When once I’d met Linnet—Jackie didn’t exist.”
“Monsieur Poirot, I’m afraid—I’m afraid of everything. I’ve never felt like this before. All these wild rocks and the awful grimness and starkness. Where are we going? What’s going to happen? I’m afraid, I tell you. Everyone hates me. I’ve never felt like that before. I’ve always been nice to people—I’ve done things for them—and they hate me—lots of people hate me. Except for Simon, I’m surrounded by enemies . . . It’s terrible to feel—that there are people who hate you. . . .”
Simon’s eyes were open. They too held contentment. What a fool he’d been to be rattled that first night . . . There was nothing to be rattled about. . . Everything was all right . . . After all, one could trust Jackie—
There was a shout-people running towards him waving their arms-shouting. . . .
Simon stared stupidly for a moment. Then he sprang to his feet and dragged Linnet with him.
Not a minute too soon. A big boulder hurtling down the cliff crashed past them. If Linnet had remained where she was she would have been crushed to atoms.
“A telegram for me.”
She snatched it off the board and tore it open.
“Why—I don’t understand—potatoes, beetroots—what does it mean, Simon?"
Simon was just coming to look over her shoulder when a furious voice said: “Excuse me, that telegram is for me,” and Signor Richetti snatched it rudely from her hand, fixing her with a furious glare as he did so.
Jacqueline hummed a little tune to herself. When the drink came, she picked it up, said: “Well, here’s to crime,” drank it off and ordered another.
Hercule Poirot was just wiping the lather from his freshly shaved face when there was a quick tap on the door, and hard on top of it Colonel Race entered unceremoniously. He closed the door behind him.
He said: “Your instinct was quite correct. It’s happened.”
Poirot straightened up and asked sharply: “What has happened?”
“Linnet Doyle’s dead—shot through the head last night.”
Hercule Poirot nodded his head.
“You did not look. But I, I have the eyes which notice, and there were no pearls on the table beside the bed this morning.”
Poirot picked up the handkerchief and examined it.
“A man’s handkerchief-but not a gentleman’s handkerchief. Ce cher Woolworth, I imagine. Threepence at most.”
“People think I’m awful. Stuck-up and cross and bad-tempered. I can’t help it. I’ve forgotten how to be-to be nice.”
“That is what I said to you; you have carried your burden by yourself too long.”
Finally he turned his attention to the washstand. There were various creams, powders, face lotions. But the only thing that seemed to interest Poirot were two little bottles labelled Nailex. He picked them up at last and brought them to the dressing table. One, which bore the inscription Nailex Rose, was empty but for a drop or two of dark red fluid at the bottom. The other, the same size, but labelled Nailex Cardinal, was nearly full. Poirot uncorked first the empty, then the full one, and sniffed them both delicately.
The body of the dead woman, who in life had been Louise Bourget, lay on the floor of her cabin. The two men bent over it.
Race straightened himself first.
“Been dead close on an hour, I should say. We’ll get Bessner on to it. Stabbed to the heart. Death pretty well instantaneous, I should imagine. She doesn’t look pretty, does she?”
Poirot shook his head with a slight shudder.
The dark feline face was convulsed, as though with surprise and fury, the lips drawn back from the teeth.
Poirot bent again gently and picked up the right hand. Something just showed within the fingers. He detached it and held it out to Race, a little sliver of flimsy paper coloured a pale mauvish pink.
“You see what it is?”
“Money,” said Race.
“The corner of a thousand-franc note, I fancy.”
Mrs. Otterbourne continued: “The arrangement was that I should go round to the stern on the deck below this, and there I should find the man waiting for me. As I went along the deck a cabin door opened and somebody looked out. It was this girl-Louise Bourget, or whatever her name is. She seemed to be expecting someone. When she saw it was me, she looked disappointed and went abruptly inside again. I didn’t think anything of it, of course. I went along just as I had said I would and got the-the stuff from the man. I paid him and-er-just had a word with him. Then I started back. Just as I came around the corner I saw someone knock on the maid’s door and go into the cabin.”
Race said, “And that person was—?"
The noise of the explosion filled the cabin. There was an acrid sour smell of smoke. Mrs. Otterbourne turned slowly sideways, as though in supreme inquiry, then her body slumped forward and she fell to the ground with a crash. From just behind her ear the blood flowed from a round neat hole.
“Perhaps not, but the custom, it still remains. The Old School Tie is the Old School Tie, and there are certain things (I know this from experience) that the Old School Tie does not do! One of those things, Monsieur Fanthorp, is to butt into a private conversation unasked when one does not know the people who are conducting it.”
“That was an accident. I swear it was an accident!” The man leant forward, his face working, his eyes terrified. “I stumbled and fell against it. I swear it was an accident. . . .”
The two men said nothing.
Pennington suddenly pulled himself together. He was still a wreck of a man, but his fighting spirit had returned in a certain measure. He moved towards the door.
“You can’t pin that on me, gentlemen. It was an accident. And it wasn’t I who shot her. D’you hear? You can’t pin that on me either—and you never will.”
He went out.
“Well, sir, where do we go from here? I admit taking the pearls from Linnet’s cabin and you’ll find them just where you say they are. I’m guilty all right. But as far as Miss Southwood is concerned, I’m not admitting anything. You’ve no evidence whatever against her. How I got hold of the fake necklace is my own business.”
Poirot murmured: “A very correct attitude.”
Poirot was silent. But it was not a modest silence. His eyes seemed to be saying: “You are wrong. They didn’t allow for Hercule Poirot.”
Aloud he said, “And now, Doctor we will go and have a word with your patient.”
“Yes,” she said “it’s rather horrible isn’t it? I can’t believe that I—did that! I know now what you meant by opening your heart to evil . . . You know pretty well how it happened. Louise made it clear to Simon that she knew. Simon got you to bring me to him. As soon as we were alone together he told me what had happened. He told me what I’d got to do. I wasn’t even horrified. I was so afraid—so deadly afraid . . . That’s what murder does to you. Simon and I were safe—quite safe—except for this miserable blackmailing French girl. I took her all the money we could get hold of. I pretended to grovel. And then, when she was counting the money, I—did it! It was quite easy. That’s what’s so horribly, horribly frightening about it . . . It’s so terribly easy. . . .”
Mrs. Allerton shivered. “Love can be a very frightening thing.”
“That is why most great love stories are tragedies.”
Mrs. Allerton’s eyes rested upon Tim and Rosalie, standing side by side in the sunlight, and she said suddenly and passionately: “But thank God, there is happiness in the world.”
Lastly the body of Linnet Doyle was brought ashore, and all over the world wires began to hum, telling the public that Linnet Doyle, who had been Linnet Ridgeway, the famous, the beautiful, the wealthy Linnet Doyle was dead.
Sir George Wode read about it in his London club, and Sterndale Rockford in New York, and Joanna Southwood in Switzerland, and it was discussed in the bar of the Three Crowns in Malton-under-Wode.
And Mr. Burnaby said acutely: “Well, it doesn’t seem to have done her much good, poor lass.”
But after a while they stopped talking about her and discussed instead who was going to win the Grand National. For, as Mr. Ferguson was saying at that minute in Luxor, it is not the past that matters but the future.