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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Questions and Answers

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Questions and Answers Pdf Download

 

Q. 1. Comment on the plot construction of Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

 

 Ans. In Poetics, it is evident that Aristotle puts great emphasis on plot in his doctrine on tragedy. He warns: “one may string together a series of characteristic speeches of the uttermost finish as regards diction and thought, and yet fail to produce the true dramatic effect; but one will have much better success with a story which, however inferior in these respects, has a plot.” Then he mentions, “so to speak, the first essential, the life and soul of the tragedy is the plot, and the characters come second”. Aristotle defines a tragedy as an “action of a destructive or painful nature; such as murders, tutures, woundings and the like.” As we know, these elements are the exact major matters in the detective novel today. In this sense, it is justified to say that tragedy is just the literary form which the detective novel chose in his day. Thus we can firmly argue that what Aristotle says about tragedy is also true to the detective novel today.

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A typical example of this method is The murder of Roger Ackroyd, the novel which has established is author’s reputation. In this novel, the killer is not only in the Dr. Watson role but also a first person narrator which the reader assumes could not turn out to be the criminal. Christie uses Hercule Poirot to perform the detective’s task during the investigation. Poirot is the main character in the novel, while eleven other characters make up the list of suspects for the murder of Mr. Ackroyd. The appearance of each suspects is carefully arranged, all getting equal time and all having done some thing to be guilty of. Christie calls this fair paly. The setting is in an English Village called King’s overdose of veronal. No more than 24 hours later, Roger Ackroyd, the man the widow is going to marry, is found murdered in his own study. The other characters include a butler, a housekeeper, a parlor maid, a kitchen maid, a cook, a secretary, an English lass and her mother, a major, a doctor and his sister, and a stranger. The story is told through the narrative voice of Dr. Lames Sheppard, “a discreet country doctor with the reticence of a father confessor”. Dr. Sheppard allies with Hercule Poirot throughout the entire investigation of looking for Ackroyd’s murderer. During this process he writes an account of his own opinions and conclusions to the mystery. Not until the last five pages dose the reader become shocked, amazed, and excited to a nfind out that it is indeed the good doctor who turns out to be the killer.

 

In this novel, the reader follows through Dr.Sheppard’s journey of collecting clues. However, trying to pick out who may be the correct murderer is still not easy. Critic Mary Wagnor indicates that the reader has difficulty in selecting the true criminal because the comic narrative voice of Dr.Sheppard. An example of Dr.Sheppard’s humorous character is he describes his sister Caroline as “somebody like her must have invented the questions on passports”. When he judges his new neighbor Piorot, he says “there’s no doubt at all about what the man’s profession has been. He’s a retired hairdresser. Look at that mustache of his”. Sheppard’s narrative voice produces the comic nature of the novel, which makes selecting him as the murderer difficult. Here the murderer’s intention in narrating the investigating story is to chronicle a failure on the part of the great detective. Instead, the course of the novel demonstrates that he is forced to record his own failure. Meanwhile, he chronicles another story of the great detective’s triumphs.

 

With The murder of Roger Ackroyd, Christie brings about the greatest controversy in mystery history. This novel is greeted with an outcry of unfairness for its unprecedented and unexpected solution. The most special with its plot is that a fictional narrator is made to tell the truth, but here Dr.Sheppard conceals his guilt on the contrary. From the very beginning, the reader expects that Sheppard would be the detective’s assistant, and would act as Hastings. In fact, he only replaces Hastings in narrative function. Christie disobeys the reader’s such expectations, and has the disinterested narrator turn out to be the killer. However, everyone decided it was all right in the end of the debate about whether Christie played fair. They accepted that if Agatha Christie had played foul she had invented a new kind of foul the rulebook had not included.

 

If we thus allege Christie ignores conventions, it is unfair, too. For she has a wonderful understanding of the conventions of the detective-story genre. And most importantly she knows how to unexpectedly shock a reader who is cultivated under these conversations. Take the solution to Murder on the Orient Express for an example. In a detective story, it is most likely that one or two of the possible suspects will turn out to be the guilty party and much more closely connected to the dead person than she or he pretends. This conversation has grown up and been followed undoubtedly by writers and readers of detective fiction. But in Murder on the Orient Express, we are made aware that one after another of the passengers is connected with the Armstrong kidnapping case. We are about to cry “absurd” when Poiriot says: “this cannot be coincidence, this can only be conspiracy, and all the suspects must have had a hand in the murder.” What is more, Christie’s innovation even does further in this book. In the end the criminals are let off scot-free because they have rid the world of a monster the law cannot reach, and therefore they should not be punished. This shows Christie’s respect for the people who take the law into their own hands. 

 

Q. 2. Write a critical note on the suspects in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

 

Ans. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, as in most of Christie’s novels, the possible suspects are numerous. These characters who people Ling’s Abbott together make up the picture of the village, “very much like any other,” misleading in its suggestion of unthreatening familiarity. Stereotyped though they are, the character convey a sense of the stable and enduring milieu of the conservative village, ehre the worst villain one expects to cross one’s path is the local philanderer. Yet from the second chapter, Christie sets about demolishing our blinkered notions of these apparently harmless rural folk. Even the to-be-victim of the murderer, a character usually kept out of the circle of deception, is not spared.

 

Dr. Shepphard sums up Roger Ackroyd as perhaps being not quite what he seems. In fact, he is so unlike the mythical country squire that the doctor finds him “a man more impossibly like a country squire could really be.” He then goes on to say that Mr. Ackroyd ran an immensely successful business-of all unlikely thingswagon wheels. And despite his very red-faced sportsman- like look that reminded the doctor of the old-fashioned musical comedies set in the village greens, and despite his renowned charitable contributions to religion, the disabled soldiers, etc., and the otherwise very proper lifestyle that he maintained, Ackroyd had been repeatedly linked with the long chain of sucessive lady housekeepers who had kept house for him since his wife’s death. In fact, local gossip had been agog about his imminet marriage for the last fifteen years. The suggestion of therse highly improper liasions were so rife that it needed the unexpected arrival of his widowed sister-in-law to put the most recent housekeeper, Miss Russell, “in her proper place”.

 

 Beginning with the victim who real-life hints as deceptive surfaces that are camoflages, Christie continues this technique of creating expectations which are followed by disillusionment through the entire cast of characters. And all the eleven characters who make up the plot, with the exception of the little Belgian, Hercule Poirot, seem to be portraits that are virtually incredibly stereotyped. From the Sheppard brother-sister duo who are introduced to us in the first chapter-the discreet middleaged country doctor with the “reticence of a father confessor”, and his sister, with the typical inquisitiveness of the old spinster-to the very handsome rank Ralph Paton and the beautiful fatherless Flora, with her Scandinavian cream and roses complexion, the characters appear to be too perfect to be real. They fit the bill a little too accurately but as the plot unflods, the forms are exposed as mere facades.

 

The only person who escapes the scalpel that chisel away the sham is Caroline Sheppard, who retains her dignity, and curiosity, to the end. But then, Caroline lies outside the ill-fated circle of the house, Ferny park, where the murder occurs. As Hercule Poirot says more than once as the plot progresses, “Everyone of (the charactes within the house) has someting to hide.” And the secret of some of these conventional characters, when exposed, are more than a litle appalling. The blue-eyed, pale, gold-haired beauty Flora, whom Sheppard had decribed as “a simple straightforward English girl”, “very refreshing to come across”, is in reality accustomed to “scheming, lying, cheating” and stealing for money. Her mother, too, the sister-inlaw of Roger Ackroyd is not above stealng the family silver. The “redoubtablr lady” with a “stern eye and lips that shut tightly” is revealed as the unmarried mother of the suspicious stranger on the Ferny grounds that fatal night. These shocking and unexpected disclosures should have warned the reader that appearances at King’s Abbott are more likely to be smokescreens for the real unpalatable self, but Christies’ clever manipulation of the plot blinds us to the shocking solution.

 

In this feature of a continuous array of characters who thwart our faith, we have one of the unusual elements that made The Murder of Roger Ackroyd “the most brilliant of deceptions”. Unlike most detective fiction, where all the characters display an innocent front, and the criminal is ultimately stripped of his deception, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd devoted a lot of space to laying bare the trickery of many “innocent” characters. It is frequently the strategy used by most crime writers to posit more than one of the characters as the possible villain, and then unwind the plot so as to reveal the truth regarding the usually earlier unsuspected murderer, and the unfortunate misteken notions about the blameless others. The series of revelations about otherwise perfectly innocuous people in the The Murder of Roger Ackroyd may appear quite unnecessary to the murder mystery set in the countryside, the perfect local for the murder mystery rather than the town because, as Auden says,”the more Eden-like it is, the greater the contradiction for the murder.”

 

But the unpleasant eye-opener about the non-criminal characters act as a deterrent to the sense of completion that customarily comes at the end. Though the exposures lead to a dead end as far as the search for the criminal is concerned, they upset our pet notions of human character. By the end of the book, in fact, the facade of respectability, and integrity is damaged a little too thoroughly to enable the return of the trust and accord with which the reader had greeted Dr, Sheppard and his siter in the first chapter, or the confidence with which he had accepted the clain that the “hobbies and, recreations of the inhabitants of King’s Abbott” acan be summed up in one word “gossip”. Of course, the wariness is also a direct fallout of the fact that the very person who has been in communication with the reader, the discrret, faithful Dr, Sheppard, is himself the blackmailer and the murderer and that the documant we have been relying upon for information has been, though strictly truthful, perceptive;y doctored by benign doctor to confound his readers.

 

Q. 3. Comment on the presentation of the narrator in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

 

Ans. The narrator of Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is Doctor James Sheppard. There is no introduction of Sheppard in the beginning of the novel but the reader finds out more about him as the story develops. He has a sister named Caroline Sheppard, who is really good at tapping into the gossip and finding out what happens in the little village where they live. The reader also learn that Dr. Sheppard’s hobby is gardening, tinkering with small technical devices and playing Mah Jong. During the major part of the narrative, except in the last two chapters, Dr. Sheppard is a very respectable character. The other characters in the novel describe and treat him with respect. He enjoys a high degree of trust from all the other characters, and a good social standing in the community.

 

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd belongs to the detective genre, which brings with it certain preconceived assumptions by the reader. Dr. Sheppard narrates the story in first person meaning that the information about the events and investigation are focalized through him. Readers with some knowledge of literature theory will know that a first person narrator raises issues of trustworthiness. The two following scenes exemplify Dr. Sheppard’s deception. They are from the second and first chapter in the novel. The reader could not be expected to have any knowledge of the characters in the novel. In the following scene, Dr. Sheppard shares some of his thoughts about the death of Mrs. Ferrars (the widow who Dr. Sheppard has been blackmailing which is not revealed to the reader until the end), before Roger Ackroyd is murdered:

 

“I went mechanically on my round. I had no cases of special interest to attend, which was, perhaps as well, for my thoughts returned again and again to the mystery of Mrs. Ferrars’ death. Had she taken her own life? Surely, if she had done so…

 

 

The attentive reader might notice that it is the notion of whether Mrs. Ferrars’ left some word behind that really worries Dr. Sheppard and not whether she committed suicide or not. Why this is, is not clear to the reader at this point in the narrative. Prior to the scene quoted above, Dr. Sheppard explains:

 

would have left some word behind to say what she contemplated doing?”

 

“As a professional man, I naturally aim at discretion. Therefore I have got into the habit of continually withholding all information possible from my sister. She usually finds out just the same, but I have the moral satisfaction of knowing that I am in no way to blame.”

 

The reader is required to interpret the text and draw conclusions. The deceptive nature of the narrative might not be evident to a first-time reader, but it is present in these early scenes. If the reader knew that Dr. Sheppard is the one who has been blackmailing Mrs. Ferrars because she poisoned her husband the scenes would read in a different way. Namely that he is worried that Mrs. Ferrars would tell someone that he was the one who has been blackmailing her. This conforms with what Yacobi defines as the selfconscious narrator that “takes care to cover his tracks, and shows some concern about his image” Seen in the perspective of Yacobi’s definition the narrator has omitted important information already in the first chapter of the novel. Dr. Sheppard’s personal narration becomes the truth as it is the only narration given to the reader.

 

Dr. Sheppard’s voice dominates the whole narrative, but sometimes in a very discreet way. The domination of the narrative is of course an active choice from the author, which in turn enables the self-conscious narrator to deceive the reader. Some parts of the narration take place through Dr. Sheppard’s description of his thoughts and ideas. In other parts he merely documents conversations that take place between other characters, without commenting on them. He also describes events that he takes part in. His own character is very subtle and he does not openly express strong ideas or opinions about others. He is in fact so subtle that it, at some points, is easy to forget that the story is really told in first-person. One such example is when Dr. Sheppard and Poirot take a walk in the park close to the home of Roger Ackroyd (Fernly Park) and happen to overhear a conversation between Hector Blunt (a friend of Roger Ackroyd), and Flora (Mrs. Ackroyd’s daughter), who are secretly in love. This scene takes place in the novel after the investigation has started and Fernly Park is examined by the police and Poirot. 

 

Blunt said nothing for a minute or two. Then he looked away from Flora into the middle distance and observed to an adjacent tree trunk that it was about time he got back to Africa. Are you going on another expedition-shooting things?’ 

 

‘Expect so. Usually do, you know – shoot things, I mean’

 

It is interesting to note that Christie’s choice of occupation for Dr. Sheppard coincides with the level of attention to detail and precision that it would take to create the concealment in the narration. A doctor is usually associated with attention to detail and a certain capacity of the mind. This is required when omitting so much information in such a clever way, which Dr. Sheppard is doing. Having established and shown textual support for the argument that Dr. Sheppard is a self-consciously unreliable narrator as Yacobi defined it, it is important to remember that this is a conscious choice from the author. The next paragraph will show that such an active construction brings with it some challenges, and further discuss the method and implications of the use of the self-conscious unreliable narrator.

 

Christie’s choice of writing the novel in the first person presents some challenges. Everything that is to be documented in the novel requires Dr. Sheppard to be present, or the events have to be reported to Dr. Sheppard by someone else. At some times this leads to awkward motivations to include Sheppard. One example of this is when Poirot wants to go to Cranchester to interview Ursula Bourne’s previous employer. He invites Dr. Sheppard to come along, for no particular reason (165). Sheppard also admits to this problem when he later says: “As I say, up till the Monday evening my narrative might have been that of Poirot himself” (203). Now my point in bringing this up is in that single quote. By comparing his narrative to what Poirot himself would have documented, Dr. Sheppard is able to assure the reader of the quality and objective truth of the documentation. If the novel was narrated by Poirot, the murderer could not benefit from the advantages of being the narrator. Since it is really Dr. Sheppard who decides what is included or not, the author needs to provide some kind of assurance for the reader that Dr. Sheppard is reliable. He claims that his report would have been the same as the detective’s, but of course there is no way for the reader to verify this. In this claim lies the unreliability, well hidden, but still present.

 

Q. 4. Comment on the themes in the novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

 

Ans. Secrets Breed Secrets: The novel begins and ends with secrets. The first event in the narrative is the suicide of Mrs. Ferrars-a suicide prompted by her secrets. She was guilty of murdering her husband and was being blackmailed by some one who discovered her unpunished crime. Ralph Paton is secretly engaged to Flora and even more secretly married to Ursula Bourne. Flora secretly stole money from her uncle. Miss Russell keeps her illegitimate son, Charles Kent, a secret. Parker hides the fact that he previously blackmailed an employer and was considering blackmailing Ackroyd as well. Major Blunt is secretly in love with Flora. Yet Dr. Sheppard keeps the biggest secret of all: concealing his guilt from the reader as well as from Hercule Poirot and the police. However, only some of these secrets are relevant to the murder of Roger Ackroyd. But because people are keeping so many secrets, their deliberate concealment—which sometimes includes lying-poses formidable obstacles to Poirot’s search for the truth.

 

Unfortunately for all secret-keepers, Poirot is adept at ferreting out concealed information. Poirot’s investigation is hindered by the commitment of the characters to keep their skeletons in the closet, but Poirot perseveres. When he first takes the case, he states, “Everyone … has something to hide” (Chapter 7). Yet later he observes “it is not easy to hide things from Hercule Poirot.” After spending time and effort hunting down answers to questions unrelated to the murder, Poirot finally gives a handful of people the opportunity to come clean. “Each one of you has something to hide” he says to those assembled (Chapter 12). One by one, the characters give up their secrets or have them revealed by Poirot.

 

 

Not only do the characters keep secrets, large and small, but secrets seem to breed secrets. Mrs. Ackroyd secretly attempted to find out the terms of Roger Ackroyd’s will but only because, she says, he was secretive about money in the first place: “In dear Roger’s place, I should have not objected to revealing the provisions of my will. But men are so secretive. One is forced to adopt little subterfuges” (Chapter 14). Mrs. Ferrars’s secret crime leads to Dr. Sheppard’s secret crime, and Dr. Sheppard commits suicide partly because he wants to keep his guilty secret from his sister Caroline.

 

The Price of Truth: Although Hercule Poirot is interested in bringing the guilty to justice, he is even more a seeker of truth. When he is on a case, his pursuit of the truth is relentless and single minded. Poirot rather comically compares himself to a hound following a scent to describe this aspect of his personality: “The good dog, he does not leave the scent” (Chapter 7). And he isn’t after truth just because it is his job, or for the satisfaction of solving a puzzle, although these are certainly among his motivations. He finds the truth beautiful, elevating it to a work of art rather than something more akin to scientific knowledge. In Chapter 12 Poirot tells Flora quite seriously, “I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to the seeker after it.”

 

Hercule Poirot might love the truth beyond all else, but the novel demonstrates truth has a dangerous side. If one discovers the truth, one might regret it. Poirot tells Flora that in the end she may wish she had left the case to the police rather than bring him into the matter-implying the police are inept and will be unsuccessful. When she insists she does want the truth, he responds ominously, hoping she “will not regret those words.” The characters also seem to agree generally that women in particular need to be shielded from the truth. The police suggest delaying telling Flora her uncle is dead because she will be too upset to answer questions. Indeed, when they do tell her, she faints. In Chapter 10, Flora’s mother prefers to believe Ackroyd’s death was so dreadful she “can’t help feeling that it must have been an accident of some kind.” She doesn’t want to think it could have been murder. And Dr. Sheppard commits suicide in part because he doesn’t want Caroline to find out what really happened: “I should not like Caroline to know. She is fond of me, and then, too, she is proud.”

 

Finally, the truth can be a weapon against the secretive and guilty. Once Poirot knows the truth, he uses it to force the murderer to confess and even encourage the murderer to end his own life. Gathering all the suspects together in Chapter 24, he announces, “Tomorrow the truth goes to Inspector Raglan.” And when he confronts Dr. Sheppard with the whole truth, Dr. Sheppard sees, as Poirot puts it, there is only “one way out.” Ultimately the truth Poirot discovers leads the way to justice.

 

Moral Weakness:Throughout the novel, choices are blamed on weakness of character, or moral weakness. Ralph, known as a wild young man, has his poor life choices blamed on his mother passing down a moral weakness, a “victim of heredity. He had not inherited his mother’s fatal propensity for drink, but nevertheless he had in him a strain of weakness.” Flora, who knows Iph well, refers to this weakness when she asks Hercule Poirot to investigate and clear Ralph of suspicion: “Ralph may be weak,” she explains. “He may have individuals’ moral failures and bad done foolish things … but he wouldn’t murder anyone” (Chapter 7). In Chapter 17, Ralph’s weakness is again the topic of conversation as Dr. Sheppard notes the young man’s “weak nature … But not a vicious one.” Ultimately Ralph’s weakness comes through in his relationships with money and with women. He is constantly in need of money, likely a result of poor self-discipline and self-indulgence. He decides to marry Flora to stay in his uncle’s good graces (and his will). Poirot describes Ralph’s pattern of poor decisions as a product of “innate weakness” and desire for “the easy, the immediate solution” (Chapter 22).

 

Ralph and his mother are not the only ones described as having weak character. As she admits to stealing her uncle’s money, Flora also attributes both Ralph’s and her own bad decisions to moral weakness. Indeed “that’s what brought us together … I understood him … I’m the same underneath … We’re weak, miserable, despicable things” (Chapter 19).

 

Dr. Sheppard, too, shares this moral weakness, which leads to his becoming a blackmailer, then a murderer. Caroline brings up her brother’s weakness when she tells Poirot the doctor is “weak as water, if I weren’t about to look after him.” Later in that chapter, Poirot poses a hypothetical situation revolving around this kind of moral weakness—describing it as a tendency to give in to temptation when one is placed in certain situations. He tells a little story about an ordinary man with no “murder in his heart” but with a “strain of weakness-deep down.” If that man faced difficulties or came upon a secret, he might realize his opportunity to make a great deal of money and so become a blackmailer. Of course, Poirot’s hypothetical story is not hypothetical at all: it is Dr. Sheppard’s own story. a

 

Q. 5. Discuss The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as a study of probelm of psychology.

 

– Ans. A detective novel has traditionally been action centric in that the solution is reached through an unearthing of clues with one motive – finding the criminal. In the process, characters in these novels per se have always been subordinated to the spheres of action within which their performance can be characterised – hero, villain, victim, suspect, innocents. Characters merely move from one sphere of action to another – from a suspect to an innocent for example. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, owing to the fact that the criminal is the narrator, it is not the criminal but the workings of the criminal mind that become the focus through the progress of the narrative.

 

There are two ways in which the incidents are brought to the perspective of the reader. One has been through the narrator focalizer and the other through the detective focalizer. Due to the way in which the narrative is constructed and the conventions of the genre to which the reader is habituated, the reader assumes that he and the narrator/Watson figure are in league to understand the detective’s actions. While at one level it is indeed so, the difference of motive that lies between the narrator’s interest in the detective’s action and the reader’s interest in the same generates a significant psychological conflict when the mystery is solved. The reader is left alone without the support of the person he has relied on throughout the narrative and considered above suspicion.

 

 

The narrator criminal is also the detective’s assistant, for which reason Poirot’s method of detection relies on psychological analysis. He cannot hide clues from the assistant as easily as his knowledge of criminal psychology. Halfway through the novel, before he can establish it empirically, Poirot tells Doctor Sheppard that he knows the identity of the murderer. Poirot does not act at this stage however. He has deduced the murderer’s identity through his knowledge of human nature. Poirot goes on to give an elaborate lecture on the nature of the criminal in this particular case before Caroline and Doctor Sheppard. In this lecture, Poirot reveals his methods to the reader. His reference to the weak nature of the criminal is very suggestive and it should put the careful reader on the track of the weakness of the narrator right through the novel. Because the progress of detections must necessarily be hidden from the criminal, the detective focalizer’s intention is to shift the readers’ attention to his method of psychological detection rather than action in the form of material clues. The reader, if he wishes to solve the crime on his own, must rely on interpretative psychological skills.

 

Poirot’s repeated insistence on the fact that everyone has something to hide is another dimension of psychological analysis. According to W. H. Auden, the reader’s interest in detective fiction is a sign of existential guilt. The reader needs to purge the guilt within himself which he achieves through the means of reading about someone else’s guilt. The fact that everyone has something to hide is merely a reaffirmation of what Auden’s Christian analysis discovers (Auden, “The Guilty Vicarage”).

 

One other fact that separates The Murder of Roger Ackroyd from the action variety of detective novels is that Pirot is in his late seventies in this particular adventure, as Anne Hart, Poirot’s , biographer,’ notes in The Life and Times of Hercule Poirot. The septuagenarian detective Poirot, unlike Holmes or other detectives in the pulp mode such as Dashiell Hammett’s (1894-1961) Sam Spade, leaves much of the legwork to his assistant Doctor Sheppard (in this Sheppard is perhaps not unlike Archie Goodwin, the assistant of Nero Wolfe, another contemporary of Poirot), while he can engage in the relaxed puzzle solving of the armchair detective.

 

Thus much of the action and puzzle solving in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is psychological. Christie manages to successfully distance her novels from the detective novels that rely more on the investigation of clues. Christie, writing during the World War years also manages the retain that element that structures the pristine detective novel – suspense, while separating it from the genre that the action variety of novels metamorphosed into – the spy thriller. – –

 

Q. 6. Discuss The Murder of Roge Ackroyd as a study of problem genre.

 

Ans. A detective novel is like a game played between the author and the reader in which the author places a large number of clues in front of the reader. The reader has to apply his logic and reasoning to discover a coherent pattern in the clues offered. In this process, the narrator figure is a recurrent structure in the detective novels – the person who walks with the reader through all the clues. Readers familiar with the genre do think of questioning the narrator’s authenticity because the Watson/Hastings figure is in many ways essential for the readers’ comprehension of the progress of the narrative. In making the criminal the narrator, Agatha Christie is able to create a twist in the game dimension of the genre, give a shocking surprise to the reader, and churn out a popular novel from amongst numerous run of the mill counterparts.

 

 In the standard detective novel where the Watson figure is used, there are two distinct channels of author-reader interaction. The first of these is through the detective focalizer. The focalizer’s job is to direct the reader’s attention to those clues that are central to the final solution. The other channel is through the Watson figure, the narrator who projects the questions of the reader inside the text. The reader and the narrator are in league to understand the focalizer’s references to clues and his method of thinking. Poirot’s references to the similarity between Hastings and Doctor Sheppard make the reader subconsciously accept him as the Watson-figure. The partnership thus formed diverts the reader’s attention to what the doctor reveals about himself. Conventions in a literary genre are held as a contract between the text and the reader so that some expectations are rendered plausible and others ruled out. The Watson figure is a part of the detective story convention: a familiar character that the reader simply cannot suspect. In addition to being the narrator and the reader’s walking stick through the novel, the narrator is a doctor, a respectable society man whose function is to give life rather than take it. A number of early reviewers felt that Christie had betrayed the readers’ trust by upsetting an established convention. The runaway success that the novel had however is ample proof that the readers felt comfortable with such betrayal.

 

Part of it can undoubtedly be explained by the way in which Christie constructs hermeneutic gaps that the detective will eventually fill up. Part of it can also be attributed to what Auden calls the cathartic effect of detective fiction – the purgation of the reader’s own guilt. But what is perhaps the most important is the surprise ending that will shock and amaze the reader who will think back and re-read the novel to discover how he/she could have been so blind. In a novel like The Murder of Roger Ackroyd where convention is harshly broken, the reader engages in a discovery and rediscovery of the detective’s cleverness and the author’s skill in what is otherwise a straightforward plot. 

 

The reader’s interest in a work of detective fiction is had and sustained through a control of the reader’s desire to master the problem that the work is based on. At one level, the narrative seems to push towards a conclusion and a solution, but on another level the narrative endeavours to maintain the enigma in the form of misleading clues, equivocation, red herrings, suspended answers and other such retardatory devices. This is the fundamental paradox of a detective novel with respect to its plot. It is through these devices that the suspense is sustained right to the end. Christie’s skilful construction of such retardatory devices and the manipulation of the reader’s expectations and desire accounts for the tremendous popularity of the whodunit The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. 

 

That the text must be simple and intelligible in order to be read is true of almost any work of popular fiction. In the case of a detective story however, it must not be too imple, for then it would come to an untimely end. The text must slow down the process of comprehension to ensure its own survival. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd this slowing down is excellently done. The reader is led through a series of false clues, subplots and digressions so as to divert his attention from the actual solution. The reader will at first be mystified by a phone call, then the retired hairdresser neighbour, references to poisons, a Tunisian dagger, a piece of white cloth and most significantly, the runaway/missing stepson Ralph Paton. The reader will try to engage mentally in puzzle solving along with the narrator and detective. He will try to understand why . the chair has been moved and who the mysterious stranger met by the narrator is. For all this he will form hypothesis, each to be explained good time and possibly proved false by the detective.

 

 Hermeneutic gaps in a work of detective fiction are mostly created through red herrings and introduction of unfamiliar new elements that are in no way connected to the central mystery. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the subplot of Ralph Paton, Ursula Bourne, Flora Ackroyd, Major Blunt and several others are created as possibly interesting but unimportant digressions if we are to consider only the central story. But these are also the pivot of the reading process because they help the author create a surprise ending to the narrative. If the reader’s progress through the narrative is driven by epistemophilia, the desire to know the end, then these are essential to lead the reader away from knowing the truth on his own – he must be made to rely on Poirot’s grey cells.

 

It is because of this that the conclusion of a detective novel becomes very important. It must be so wholly unexpected, so startling that the reader has to place his entire trust in the way the detective arrives at the solution. In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the unique remarkable strategy that Christie employs in making the narrator the criminal is one such. The reader is so conditioned by the formular that he cannot expect such a thing to happen. The strategy is a remarkable novelty that the reader is unused to. The reader had so far identified with the narrating self, but now he is forced to detach himself from the respectable Doctor Sheppard and be at the mercy of the author. Once the solution has been reached, the detective calmly recreates the crime logically and efficiently for the emotional and intellectual satisfaction of the reader.

 

For the second and subsequent readings therefore, the reader’s exercise is a discovery and rediscovery of the crime. Being in possession of the facts, the reader engages in an analysis in like manner to the detective, for he is the hero and the master of the situation. The need to emulate a higher ideal of logical efficiency is inherent in the consciousness of most readers, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd satisfied that need.

 

 Q. 7. Write a character analysis of Caroline Sheppard in The Murder of Roge Ackroyd.

 

Ans. Among the few female characters in Agatha Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”, Caroline Sheppard undoubtedly stands out in many ways. Dr. James Sheppard is, at least what appears as, very pragmatic, reticent and direct. His logic and rationale are in stark contrast with Caroline’s characteristics. Unlike her brother, she is very intuitive and curious. She has a wide circle of contacts within King’s Abbot. She has a profound sensibility, and knows that everyone is like her. Anyone who is not like that is “extraordinary” to her. She is one of the first to know every new gossip, and also the first to make it viral in the small, closely knit society.

 

Caroline can do any amount of finding out by sitting placidly at home. I don’t know how she manages it, but there it is. I suspect that the servants and the tradesmen constitute her Intelligence Corps. When she goes out, it is not to gather in information, but to spread it.

 

It is her intuitive moments which enable her predict almost everything correctly. Even though her reasons and logics are a little baffling to a rational reader, it is surprising how she always gets it right. The mere fact that Mrs. Ferrars buys clothes from Paris makes Caroline think that she poisoned her husband to death. She misses out on only a few latent details of the neighborhood; for instance, she mistakes a Home Office Expert for Ralph Paton who arrives at Poirot’s house. Even though she fails to recognize her brother’s duality, she does detect a “strain of weakness” in him. The reader is left wondering that she might find out the truth someday, which is possible to a great extent. One of the significant factors which are key to her reach is her own skill of observation (similar to Holmes, in a way). She is right when she says that Flora doesn’t care “a penny piece” for Ralph. Poirot trusts her especially because of this feature of hers and is able to unveil some important aspects of the case. She successfully accomplishes all the tasks which Poirot assigns to her, for instance, she is able to find out the exact color of Ralph’s boots. In addition to this, her keen sense of gathering information and curiosity help Poirot to find out the real identity of Charles Kent. Without her, Miss Russell’s visit to Dr. Sheppard would have been a secret.

She trusts Poirot almost blindly and does what he asks her to. In a way, it can be said that she plays a major role despite staying in the background. Her being a semi-major character does not stand in the way of her paving a way out to admiration from the readers. She is the only trustworthy character, after Poirot. As many critics have and Christie herself has remarked, she is the predecessor of Christie’s second most famous detective figure, Miss Marple. She is like the old spinster who does not have any business of her own to mind. In fact, Christie created Marple when she felt that somebody like Caroline was not getting her share of importance and appreciation. She also admitted to her being loosely based on her own self. In the very first chapter, Sheppard says,

 

If Caroline ever adopts a crest, I should certainly suggest a mongoose rampant. Though it is very subtle, Sheppard may be comparing her here with a mongoose perhaps because she is like the fur that protects him from disgrace, which is true. The only reason why Poirot lets him choose a safe, dignified and easy way to die without any legal inquiries is his sister. Poirot acts as this extra-legal figure which gets his way because of his superiority in crime solving. As Poirot says, she has “a wonderful psychological insight into human nature.” One of the main things she fails to detect is her brother’s duality; she does not consider Sheppard as the possible murderer or blackmailer. She is the only character who does not hide anything from the reader or Poirot; she never has anything to hide. She is also the only character who retains her dignity throughout the text.

In a text that privileges domestic clues over “scientific” ones, like of fingerprints/footprints (as in Holmesian texts) the importance of Caroline’s help/observation is a crucial element. This also substantiates Christie’s deviation from the Holmesian model of detective fiction. To conclude, Caroline Sheppard is the odd one out in the mysterious circumstances of King’s Abbot: she is like an open book and more trustworthy than the narrator himself and also perhaps as a more able assistant to Poirot than James Sheppard.

 

Q. 8. Discuss how the King’s Abbott is portrayed in The Murder of Roge Ackroyd.

 

Ans. King’s Abott is the typical English suburban vicinity, a few miles away from the big town of Cranchester. It is the conventional countryside where people live outside the real world, the urban liſ. It is a peaceful, carefree and quiet neighborhood, but only on the surface: it is follow from the inside. In Sheppard’s words, it is “rich in unmarried ladies and re’ ed military officers”. The reader learns about not-so-innocent mishaps taking place in the apparently peaceful and innocent village. It is very ironical that the on the surface crime-free village witnesses hideous, offensive, hellish crimes including domestic violence, blackmail, suicide and two murders. Their “hobbies and recreations can be summed up in one word, ‘gossip'”. Gossip is an integral part of King’s Abbot, so much so that even men cannot stay away from it. Most men in Abbot are “bluff male, intent on the game and indifferent to gossip”. The sixteenth chapter, the one which is about the Mah Jong party, is a good example of writing that seemingly subscribes to and yet defies major stereo types associated with the depiction of idyllic villages in the Golden Age. The reader comes to know about the racial and oriental stereotypical notions they follow, for instance, the prolonged discussion over “Chee” and “Chow”. Christie cleverly weaves this chapter as a sign of a strong undercurrent of secretive and hidden game played within a game of Mah Jong.

 

… there is tremendous secret competition amongst us as to who can build their wall quickest.

 

Clearly, as Poirot suggests, everyone is hiding something from him for various reasons. Women do not have freedom either in the tranquil country, contrary to what appears. Even a solitary widow like Mrs. Ferrars cannot do what she likes: despite being “free will” she is not able to marry the man of her choice owing to social pressure. The mistress of the second most important house in King’s Abbot has to poison her husband because she cannot get a divorce or go public with his monstrous actions. The closely knit society is so orthodox that even Mr. Ackroyd, a man, is not free to marry someone he likes. Very close to this lies the extensive snobbery of the dwellers of King’s Abbot. The first one to fall victim to it is the old Miss Russell. She is the unmarried mother of a drug addict and has to meet her son without anyone’s knowledge. She is the “redoubtable” woman whose stay in Fernley Park is the longest and is, therefore, in everyone’s view, the strongest contender of becoming Mrs. Roger Ackroyd. However, Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd “has succeeded in putting Miss Russell in her place”. The second and more significant prey to this class discrimination is Ursula Bourne. Ralph Paton marries her but has to keep the marriage a secret because of the class difference and the fear of disapproval from his uncle. The mere fact that Ursula cries at night and stays by herself pushes her into deep paranoia and suspicion and even a prime suspect in the thefts at the hands of the villagers. They think of her as a part of some sort of a “gang”, although the “simple, straightforward English girl”, Flora, is the real thief. So steeped are they in class-related assumptions and prejudices that they think that the servants are accustomed to stealing money and other valuables from their masters. No matter how much “peaceful and crime free” it is assumed to be, King’s Abbot is completely upside down. Christie creates it to mock the upper class gentry who are always ready to use their riches as the right to accuse the servant class of anything and everything. The conventional and ignorant society of King’s Abbot overlooks the possibility of a respectable man like Dr. Sheppard being greedy and making a widow’s life hell through blackmail. He cannot be thought of doing this at all. King’s Abbot is a place full of class stereotypes and everything seems superficial.

 

Q. 9. Discuss the clues to the murder given in The Murder of Roge Ackroyd.

 

Ans. In chapter 1, Dr. Sheppard and his sister Caroline discuss the death of Mrs. Ferrars. Caroline is introduced disparagingly as an unregenerate snoop, in terms that immediately seek to engage the sympathy of the reader against her as a reliable witness. The doctor is given the sympathetic treatment, narrating in the first person, but a curious pattern emerges from their interchange. Dr. Sheppard says, “I have got into the habit of continually withholding all information possible from my sister,” a statement we should immediately consider carefully as we should notice when they have finished their conversation that he has told us nothing but what Caroline has forced him to tell. He tries to convince us that Caroline is wrong about Mrs. Ferrars poisoning her husband before he reveals to us that Mrs. Ferrars died of an overdose of veronel, which she possibly took on purpose. He either counters or disparages all of Caroline’s statements of fact or deductions from the facts. The first four pages of the novel consist of one narrative being denied credibility by the second narrative, and astonishingly the narrator admits at the end of the chapter that the unreliable witness is likely telling the truth, but he has done his work so well that we don’t even notice his concession by that point. We feel that Caroline’s words are questionable at best. If we had read more carefully, we would know at the end of chapter 1 that the doctor is an unreliable narrator who seeks to withhold the truth from everyone, not just Caroline. But we are flattered into thinking we are in the doctor’s confidence.

 

During chapter 2 the doctor reveals something that will be very important shortly: “I had no cases of special interest to attend, which was, perhaps, as well.. ..” This means he was free to come and go as he chose, and that’s an important consideration when he uses the excuse of a tricky confinement coming up to explain why in chapter 4 he took his black bag to the dinner at the Ackroyd’s. From those two little statements we learn that the doctor is not above lying, perhaps telling the little white lies, but lying to cover up his true motives. We ought to be very much on our guard and suspicious of everything he says. In chapter 7 he again reiterates that he had no pressing cases-so we learn that the confinement was definitely a lie.

 

Also in chapter 2, there’s an important syntactical clue. In discussing Mrs. Ferrars, he says, “When had I last seen her? Not for over a week. Her manner then had been normal enough considering-well considering everything.” That dash. The repetition of “considering.” The vague and tantalizing word “everything.” This is a huge clue that the doctor is hiding very significant pieces of information from us as well as from Caroline. As the doctor of the woman who just died, he is the one person who could have been expected to know for certain what the woman died of, how she possibly took the drug, and should have been able to guess why if he didn’t actually know already.

 

 Chapter 3 introduces Hercule Poirot to the cast of characters of this novel. It’s a comic presentation, with Poirot angrily throwing a vegetable marrow [a zucchini squash to those in the U.S.] over the fence and nearly hitting the doctor, and the subsequent scene highlighting Poirot’s comic idiosyncrasies. It has the effect of mitigating the mass of important information we should have been analyzing in the first two chapters. It’s a masterful distraction in the hands of a master at sleight-ofhand. And it includes a very important clue to the doctor’s motivation. He says he received a legacy about a year ago and that he lost it in financial speculation of a type that Poirot associates with his gullible friend Hastings. We don’t see any other evidence of the doctor’s character flaw except this-his confession that he is greedy. The reference to Captain Hastings is another distraction from the point. We think fondly of Hastings and fail to consider that this Dr. Sheppard could be badly greedy, not comically gullible.

 

Had we not been so easily distracted, when in chapter 4 Roger Ackroyd reveals to Dr. Sheppard that Mrs. Ferrars was being blackmailed by someone close by, we might have wondered about Dr. Sheppard’s “legacy” and greed. We might have wondered about his grudging admission that Caroline was right about most things, including that Mrs. Ferrars poisoned her husband and then committed suicide because of it. We might have realized that if he had been holding back vital information from us, why wouldn’t he hold it back from Roger Ackroyd? We might have realized that the most logical person to be in the position to blackmail Mrs. Ferrars was the doctor himself.

 

And then we might have wondered about the clever omission the doctor practices in chapter 4: “The letter had been brought in at twenty minutes to nine. It was just on ten minutes to nine when I left him, the letter still unread. I hesitated with my hand on the door handle, looking back and wondering if there was anything I had left undone. I could think of nothing. With a shake of the head I passed out and closed the door behind me.” Not only does he pass over how he left Roger Ackroyd, he provides a subtle clue by changing from active voice to passive and back to active again when the dangerous part has been described in vague terms. In addition, he should have been using the subjunctive mood for his wonder, but he uses the indicative instead. Is this another clue that what happened was something not in the realms of the subjunctive, but of deadly reality? I think we can take it as fact.

 

 

The next number of chapters expand all the red herrings to full size and obscure our views of what occurred.

 

In case we have been confused, in chapter 17 Agatha Christie clearly has Poirot answer Caroline Sheppard’s assertion that her brother James is fundamentally a weak person with a complete summary of the case for James being the murderer. Most readers have by this time been blinded by the Ralph Paton red herring and think that Poirot is talking about Ralph.

 

Finally, if we still have been blinded by all the subterfuge in the masterful organization and power of language of the great mystery author, she gives us a conclusive clue before Poirot convenes all the suspects. In chapter 23 when he tells Caroline and James that he knows who did the deed, he refuses to allow Caroline to come to his house to see him unmask the killer. He gives the clumsy excuse that the killer will be there, and he does not want her to see-but he allows many other innocent people to come too. The only possible reason for excluding Caroline is that Poirot mercifully does not want her to have to find out about her brother that way. Meanwhile, in James Sheppard’s cruel style, he compares his sister standing on the doorstep watching them go to a dog that has been denied a walk. If we ever felt sympathy for him, we should have stopped at last at that sentence.

 

These clues presented to us by the novelist create a much different line of logical deduction than that presented by Hercule Poirot-in chapters 25 and 26 when he explains how he figured things out. He targets the time difference in James Sheppard’s narrative as being his first solid clue. Dr. Sheppard said that he left the Ackroyd house at exactly 9, hearing the church clock strike. But then he took a full ten minutes to walk a distance that could be covered in two or three minutes easily. From that discrepancy, Poirot notes that two facts contain the key to the identity of the murderer: the fact that there was a telephone call to the doctor to tell him of the death of Roger Ackroyd, and the fact that the high-backed grandfather chair had been pulled out from the wall to obscure the table by the window in the study where Roger Ackroyd died, and nobody confessed to moving it out or moving it back in place.

 

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