The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Themes

Dayna Bakhat
Mind Map by Dayna Bakhat, updated more than 1 year ago
Dayna Bakhat
Created by Dayna Bakhat over 3 years ago


AS - Level English Literature Mind Map on The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Themes, created by Dayna Bakhat on 02/06/2017.

Resource summary

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Themes
1 The Triumph of Good and Restoration of order
1.1 Most detective fictions involves this. E.g. in Sherlock Holmes, the reader has no doubt that Holmes will solve the case. The pattern of the detective genre is used by Christie - the reader has no doubt that Poirot will solve the case because Sheppard repeatedly reminds the reader that Poirot has solved it.
1.2 The question is not 'if' order will be restored but 'how'. The predictability of this theme is something the reader can count on with certainty. Spring
2 "Murder of Manners"
2.1 Unlike other gruesome detective fiction, Christie's novel is set in polite 'civilized' upper and middle class world of Britain in the first half of the 20th century.
2.2 She often eschews violent crimes and macabre descriptions of violence - instead, her characters retain their manners and civility throughout. There are no scenes of violence, or gore; instead, the novel primarily features characters having civilised discussions and attending social gatherings.
2.3 The rules of middle and upper-class England are rigidly applied to all characters, who behave with restraint/courtesy throughout.
2.4 E.g. Even when he has been formally accused by Poirot of being the murderer, Dr. Sheppard doesn't respond with anger/violence, but instead politely disagrees and returns home.
3 Nature vs. Nurture in Creating a Criminal
3.1 A major human question is one of “nature” vs. “nurture” - does a person’s environment determine their behavior, or is their behavior determined by their innate character.
3.2 At the end of Chapter 17, Poirot’s allegorical story about a weak man who, when desperate enough or provoked in just the right way, is moved to commit a crime, articulates the novel’s stance on this debate. It is the precise combination of a weak character and the right circumstances (both nature and nurture) that create a criminal.
3.2.1 In the case of Dr. Sheppard, it was his “streak of weakness” combined with the opportunity to make easy money, and then the desperate need to hide his behavior, that provoked him to commit murder. Sheppard is not a sociopath nor a hardened criminal, merely a weak man who was put in a tempting situation.
3.2.2 Flora declares herself a weak character, and it is this weakness combined with a desperation for money that caused her to steal from her uncle.
4 The Danger of Secrets
4.1 Nearly every character in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has a secret, and the danger of keeping these secrets to themselves is demonstrated again and again.
4.1.1 Even secrets unrelated to the murder can be dangerous. Major Blunt is desperately in love with Flora, but he keeps the secret to himself, which prevents him from finding the happiness that he could find if he shared his love with her.
4.2 Flora keeps the secret that she never actually said goodnight to her uncle before he was murdered, which prevents the investigators from determining an accurate time of death for Ackroyd, and thus throws suspicion onto innocent characters.
5 The Power of Method and Logic
5.1 Although many characters in the novel act on impulse and are motivated entirely by emotion, Poirot’s brilliance lies in his ability to distance himself from his emotions and consider every fact objectively.
5.1.1 He constantly references the importance of his “method” – the way he systematically considers the facts, taking nothing for granted and no one at his word, until he can painstakingly build the truth from the facts he has collected.
5.1.2 Unlike Flora or Colonel Melrose both of whom are convinced but unable to prove that Ralph is innocent because of their emotional connection to him, Poirot maintains objectivity with regards to Ralph. Poirot is able to prove Ralph's innocence through thorough investigation of the facts.
5.2 It is only with this “method” that Poirot ultimately triumphs over the seemingly impossible case that manages to baffle every other character in the novel.
6 The Danger of Assumptions
6.1 As much as the novel promotes the power of method and logic, it similarly points out the danger of assumptions.
6.2 Nearly every time a character makes an assumption without having used method and logic to back it up, they are proven wrong.
6.3 The most powerful example of this theme, however, is demonstrated with the reader himself. Most people on their first read of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd assume a certain level of trust in the narrator.
6.4 Simply by virtue of his position as the novel’s chronicler, Dr. Sheppard is unconsciously deemed trustworthy by the reader, and consequently the reader may miss the many clues Christie includes as to his guilt throughout the novel. When Sheppard is ultimately revealed to be the murderer, it is a stunning revelation, and a powerful lesson for the reader in the danger of assumptions.
7 The Power of Class Distinctions
7.1 Intertextually, most of Christie’s novels focus on upper-class characters but feature members of the serving class in supporting roles. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is no exception, and indeed, the power of the divisions between members of the two classes is palpable.
7.1.1 E.g. Ursula Bourne's romance with and marriage to Ralph Paton has to be kept a secret because of her position as a member of the serving class. Paton is worried that if his uncle were to find out that he married a servant with no money, he would be furious, and thus, he persuades Ursula to keep the marriage a secret. This secret winds up causing much trouble and adding much confusion to the mystery of Ackroyd’s death, a nod to the incredible power of class divisions within the world of the novel.
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