Can I please get some feedback on my "And then there were none," essay?

Analyse how ideas of innocence/guilt were developed for a particular purpose

The pain self-inflicted by one’s guilt is far worse than any punishment. “And then there were none,” a murder mystery novel by Agatha Christie highlights this perfectly through the use of certain characters. Christie highlights ideas of guilt through the use of specific writing techniques. The character of Dr Armstrong reveals how the guilty come up with all sorts of excuses to take the blame off them. Vera shows how guilt leads to psychosis and finally, the theme that guilt can get too much to bear is shown through the character of Vera also.

The guilty will always try to place the blame on something else. Nearly every guest on Soldier Island refused to accept full responsibility for their crimes. They instead chose to place the blame on other things such as alcohol or made it seem like an accident. The murder Dr Armstrong committed was a clear example of this. “Poor devil-elderly woman- simple job if I’d been sober.” The use of the conjunction “if” shows that Dr Armstrong blames the death of the elderly woman on the alcohol rather than owning up to his crime. This reveals a lot about what guilt can lead people to do. To cope with the guilt of killing an elderly lady, Armstrong decided to transfer the blame onto the alcohol in a bid to seem innocent. In order for him to do this Armstrong must have had a small feeling of guilt as an innocent person would not need to blame their actions on others. This is important because it suggests that although people may refuse to take responsibility for their actions, they are obviously still affected by guilt. They may not want to admit it, but when they do things wrong they are always affected in some way. Dr Armstrong was so affected by it that he ended up giving up drinking altogether. Agatha Christie did this so that the reader could see the effects guilt had on people. Through the use of this technique, she showed that guilt leads people to blame other things for their actions. It shows how when humans feel guilty they will often come up with coping mechanisms, in the case of this novel, Dr Armstrong tried to justify his actions by blaming it on the drink. It is a typical human characteristic to blame others. Nearly everyone would have tried to justify their actions at least once in their lives by blaming them on someone or something else. Agatha Christie highlighted this idea effectively through the character of Dr Armstrong. She uses Dr Armstrong as an expression of a corrupt human conscience. Humans should know that the right thing to do is to admit to their actions, however, guilt affects people all in different ways and sometimes the only way to deal with that is to pretend it was someone else.

The character of Vera is another clear example of the pain self-inflicted damage guilt can cause. Vera Claythorne was mentally unhinged from the very beginning of the novel. The reader learns this is due to her losing the love of her life after sending a little boy to his death. An example of this from the text is, “The sea . . . So peaceful today – sometimes so cruel … The sea that dragged you down to its depth. Drowned … Found drowned … Drowned at sea … Drowned – drowned – drowned …” The repetition of the word ‘Drowned,’ introduces the reader to how Vera had already begun to be affected by psychosis. She has started to go a little crazy and is remembering how Cyril died. This is an example of a punishing side effect of guilt. Vera’s guilt for killing Cyril led to her mentally unhinged state. To slip into a mental state such as that is probably one of the worst things that could happen to a person. By mentioning Vera’s slightly unhinged personality at the beginning of the novel, Agatha Christie is allowing the reader time to see how over the course of the novel Vera slips more and more into mania. Vera was obviously quite deeply affected by guilt as it led to her deranged behaviour. She began seeing both Cyril and Hugo in her dreams and thought almost constantly about them both. This is important because it shows how over time, the effects of guilt will begin to cause damage to the conscience of a person. Through the use of this technique, Agatha Christie shows how guilt can have long-lasting effects on people. This is quite an important concept for the reader to understand, especially considering the period this novel was written in. Released in 1939, the same year world war two started, there were a lot of people struggling with the effects of guilt. Guilt can come in many different forms, it is not always caused solely by one person’s actions. During the world wars, a lot of people came home with guilt, guilt that they survived whilst others didn’t. Vera’s character in this novel showed how damaging the effects of guilt can be. How it can change people. This was a really important idea to include in the novel as it helped people understand that guilt can change people as they are suffering a lot of internal pain.

The character of Vera also shows how eventually the guilt gets too much to bear. At the end of the novel, Vera ends up hanging herself, an effect of the guilt of murdering not only Cyril but shooting Lombard as well. An example of this from the novel is when Vera says, “That was what murder was - and easy as that! But afterwards, you went on remembering…” The use of internal dialogue here shows the effect guilt has had on Vera. It shows how even though Vera may not have regretted what she did at the time, it impacted her in one way or another. Before Vera hangs herself, she believes that Hugo is in the room with her. This shows just how much the murder has impacted her and how her guilt has caused her to slip into a dark place. She killed Cyril believing that it would make Hugo happy and let them be together. However, near the end of the novel, she realizes that Hugo did not want this after all and she finally begins to feel guilt for her actions. As she reflects on her past she realises what she must do. This quote is also important because it is the first time Vera refers to Cyril’s death as a murder. As she finally accepts that Cyril’s death was a murder, all the guilt catches up to her and it becomes too much for her to bear. Believing it is what Hugo wants, she hangs herself. This is interesting because it speaks a lot about what society is like. Many people chose to end their lives when things get rough. People don’t like to feel guilt, when they do it can make them uncomfortable and lead them to try to escape the feeling in any way they can. Even if it means taking their own lives. Through the use of this scene, Christie reveals a lot about human nature and how it relates to guilt.

Agatha Christie’s, “and then there were none,” shows that the self-inflicted pain from guilt is far worse than any punishment. She does this through the characters of Dr Armstrong and Vera Claythorne as well as the scene in which Vera hangs herself. The deliberate use of certain writing techniques helps show how the guilty will always find a way to justify their actions, how guilt can lead to psychosis and finally how sometimes the guilt gets too much to bear. Christie develops these ideas around guilt to show the reader how guilt affects people and how the self-inflicted punishment from guilt is often actually worse than punishment decided by the law.

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You have a strong introduction which clearly shapes your argument in response to the question.

This is a great essay! There are small tweaks that you could make to elevate your response, using more literary terms. For example, when you mention, “at the beginning of the novel,” you could make this more sophisticated by referring to it as the exposition or in the rising action of the novel. Similarly with, “at the end of the novel,” you could name it the falling action or resolution. This shows a little more awareness of how Christie structured the novel.

A good tip is to use the key words from the question. You’ve implied that the author’s purpose is to show how guilt make us behave, but you could say that more explicitly in your introduction and conclusion, using the terms, “particular purpose.” For example: Agatha Christie develops these ideas of guilt for the particular purpose of illustrating what effects it can have on us and our actions.

On the whole, I think you’ve done a good job of weaving in your analysis with the evidence, and I liked that you showed some awareness of the author’s craft with your discussion of language techniques.

Ka mau te wehi!