Murder on the Orient Express
Agatha Christie
Contributed by Ariane Heyne

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Part 3 Chapter 7-8
Summary

Chapter 7

Mary Debenham is summoned into the dining car. Poirot asks her why she lied and concealed the reality that she resided in the Armstrong residence. Mary admits that she did hide this, but declares that she was obliged to do so or other families would not hire her. She was apprehensive about the possibility that if other people discovered that she had a connection of any kind to the Armstrong family, that they would refuse to hire her. Mary says that it had been three years since she last came across the Countess and that she looked much different today. This is the reason why she didn’t recognize her, she explains. Mary begins to cry. Colonel Arbuthnot, who is still in the room, becomes threatening towards Poirot. The couple departs from the dining cart. M. Bouc continues to show his astonishment at Poirot’s discernment, and he is unable to understand how he found out that Mary had been employed in the Armstrong house. Poirot explains that he realized it was Mary as a result of the Countess making such an effort to protect her. The Countess had said that her governess had red hair and was large in stature, and this description was the opposite of Mary. While thinking of Debenham, the Countess claimed that the governess’ name was Freebody. There is a store called Debenham and Freebody in London. It was the first name that came to mind.

Chapter 8

Bouc declares that if it were discovered that every person on the coach was somehow involved with the Armstrongs, he wouldn’t be surprised. Poirot says that this remark is rather profound. Antonio Foscanelli, the Italian, is again summoned to the dining car. He admits that he worked as a chauffeur for the Armstrongs. However, he states that he did not kill Ratchett. He says that Daisy was “the delight of the house,” and that she used to pretend that she was driving the car.

Greta Ohlsson is asked to come into the dining car. She immediately begins to cry hysterically. She says that she regrets not telling Poirot earlier that she was, in fact, Daisy Armstrong’s nurse.

The next person to be called in is Masterman. He immediately walks up to Poirot and declares that he was batman for Colonel Armstrong in the war. He was also his valet after that. He tells Poirot all this without being questioned in any way. Masterman begs Poirot to believe that Antonio is innocent. He says that he “wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

After Masterman leaves, Hardman comes in. Poirot asks him if is in some way connected to the Armstrongs. Hardman says he does not have any connection, but he imagines he might be the sole person on the train who doesn’t. Hardman asks whether Poirot knows anything about the identities of the American and the maid who works for her. While smiling, Poirot makes that the suggestion that they may be a cook and housekeeper. Hardman asks whether Poirot has definite knowledge of who killed Ratchett. Poirot says, “I have known for some time.” He instructs Hardman to summon each and every passenger into the dining car.

Analysis

In Murder on the Orient Express, Christie depicts a great deal about British attitudes about Americans and America in the 1930s. Hardman is seen as a typical “American,” as he is rather obnoxious, loud, and frequently makes jokes. The United States is portrayed as a country with a great deal of diversity that brings together people from many different nationalities.

The language that Hardman uses is especially distinctive from that of the other passengers. He is known for his use of expressions like “It’s got me beat” and “can you beat it?” These and other colloquialisms make him seem different than the other passengers, who are European and much more proper in their manner and speech. Hardman is always using slang, saying things like “American dame,” “Bughouse,” “I take off my heat to you,” and “Count me Out.” Hardman says that Poirot is a “pretty slick guesser. Yes, I’ll tell the whole world you’re a slick guesser.” Hardman’s way of speaking contains such a large amount of slang that it would be possible to think he knows no other type of language. Christie is responsible for creating this idea of the one-dimensional, sort of stock character “American.” There is quite a bit of awkwardness in the use of slang in the novel at many points, especially when compared to the speech of the other characters. It shows the limits of Christie’s understanding of America. In a similar way to Dr. Constantine, the author has trouble with translating American English. The doctor asks Poirot if he intends to depend on his intuition, or “what the Americans call ‘the hunch’?” Hardman is only one “idea” of a typical American: he uses slang far more than proper English, and is big and slouching in appearance.

Law breaking and alcoholism are other traits that are linked to Hardman’s suitcase and his grips, which are described as being filled to bursting with hidden liquor. The American is now outside of the borders of Prohibition America, and he takes advantage of his freedom to binge drink alcohol and pack up his suitcase with the substance. Hardman concedes: “I can’t say Prohibition has ever worried me any.” He fully means to smuggle alcohol into the United States. He says, “By the time I get to Paris…what’s left of this little lot will go into a bottle labelled hairwash.” American law is depicted as being ineffective and pointless, and Americans are portrayed as repressed and reckless alcoholics. The men make jokes about Prohibition. Smiling, M. Bouc says, “You are not a believer in Prohibition, Monsieur Hardman.” M. Bouc thinks that the word “speakeasy” is quaint,” and it’s clear he believes that the United States is a backward country. He is condescending in his description of American language as “so expressive.”

Poirot betrays less bias than M. Bouc. He says, “Me, I would much like to go to America…there is much I admire about America.” His admiration for the country does not extend to American women. Poirot and Hardman both show distaste for women from that country. Hardman falls in love with a woman from France, and Poirot says that he finds “American women less charming than my own country-women. The French or the Belgian girl, coquettish, charming—I think there is no one to touch her.” There are American women on the train, but there is only one who has admitted to being American. This is Mrs. Hubbard. She is a fat and shrewd lady with a loud mouth, although she doesn’t use American slang as much as Hardman. Americans and American women are portrayed as improper and bold, as well as ugly.

America is also characterized as being a place of “progress.” This includes social progress. The people on the train view the train with suspicion, as there are people of “all races and all nationalities on board.” Poirot realizes that this kind of diversity is only able to exist in the United States, in households like those of the Armstrongs. Progress and Diversity are elements of America that European men admire. Poirot says, “It is true that America is the country of progress.” 

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