Murder on the Orient Express
Agatha Christie
Contributed by Ariane Heyne

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Part 3 Chapter 9
Summary

The passengers gather in the restaurant car. They sit around the tables. Greta Van Ohlsson continues to weep. Poirot makes an announcement that there are two potential solutions to the crime. He says that he will present both to them. After that, M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine can decide which one is accurate.

Poirot sets out he fist possible solution:

The evidence provided by Mr. Hardman demonstrates that no one came in or left the Stamboul-Calais coach. The enemy that Ratchett described to Hardman came on the coach at Vincovci through a door that was left open by McQueen and Arbuthnot. The enemy was wearing a Wagon Lit uniform, and this person ventured into Ratchett’s compartment and killed him. The watch Ratchett was wearing was found to be stopped at 1:15 as a result of the fact that Ratchett neglected to set it back when at Tzaribrod. The crime was carried out at 12:15 a.m. The voice that was heard at 12:47 was caused by a third person who was in the compartment.

Poirot then sets out the second potential solution:

During the first day on the train, M. Bouc made a strange comment to Poirot. He said, “the company assembled was interesting because it was so varied—representing…all classes and nationalities.” Poirot recognized that this sort of assembly would be a possibility only in America, and this caused him to begin the guessing scheme.

Poirot was tipped off by McQueen’s second interview. When Poirot informed him that a note bearing the name of Armstrong had been discovered, he says “But surely—” and fails to complete the sentence. Poirot believed he had begun to say, “But surely that was burnt.” It was this that made Poirot think that McQueen was in some way involved in the crime.

The fact that Masterman insisted that Ratchett always drank a sleeping draught caused suspicion. If Ratchett thought that someone wanted to murder him, he wouldn’t have taken the drought.

The evidence presented by Hardman that no person came in or left the coach helped confirm that the murderer was within the Stamboul-Calais coach. The discussion that Poirot hears between Colonel Arbuthnot and Miss Debenham shows that they were on intimate terms and not strangers who had just met on a train. Arbuthnot addressed her as “Mary.” When an Englishman addresses a woman by her first name, this means that he must know her extremely well.

The story told by Mrs. Hubbard that she asked Greta Ohlsson to find out whether the communicating door was bolted was clearly a lie, as she was able to see it herself. The bolt is situated one foot above the door handle.

The cry heard by Poirot at 12:47 was clearly not Ratchett. This is because Ratchett was drugged and it seems that he didn’t struggle. Also, Ratchett was unable to speak French.

Poirot thinks that the scene that took place at 12:47 was meticulously planned and carried out. Ratchett was killed at around two in the morning.

The great difficulty involved in convicting any one individual in the crime and the number of people on the train that have a connection of some kind to the Armstrong family caused Poirot to reach one solution—they were all involved in the crime. The Armstrong family created a sort of “jury” of twelve people that conspired to stab the man twelve times. While Ratchett was able to escape justice in the United States, the Armstrong family was able to carry out another form of it.

Understanding that the Wagon Lit conductor must have been aware of the plot, Poirot realizes that there are thirteen people with a connection to the crime. Only one person on the train is innocent. It is Princess Andrenyi. Her husband was her substitute. Poirot lists the passengers. When he reaches Mrs. Hubbard, he reveals her real identity: Linda Arden, a famous actress and Sonia Armstrong’s mother.

Mrs. Hubbard says to Poirot: “I always fancied myself in comedy parts.” Mrs. Hubbard tells Poirot about the entire plot. It was felt that the death sentence that Cassetti had escaped needed to be carried out in order to stop him from hurting other children. Mrs. Hubbard requests for Poirot to only convict her and leave the others alone.

Poirot asks M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine for their opinions. M. Bouc says a solution could be to contact the police as soon as the train gets to the station. The Doctor says that he could have “one or two fantastic suggestions.”

Analysis

Hercule Poirot is not only a private detective but also the moral authority in this novel. It is Poirot’s position as a private detective that allows him to work outside of the law and still get to decide which person is guilty without taking into account the state’s guidelines. On the train, Poirot seems to be the only person representing the idea of justice. As a result, his authority seems supreme. No one there will question him. While there will be policemen who will meet the train when it finishes its journey, until it gets to London it exists outside of established laws. By the novel’s conclusion, a specific set of morals that is distinct from those of English or American law is established.

This new set of morals allows the Armstrongs to murder Ratchett and not be punished for doing so. As it involved a “jury’ of twelve, the crime appears to be permissible. Poirot and Arbuthnot talk about trial by jury. However, the kind of jury that is referred to is not the type given authority in Western societies. When Arbuthnot declares to Poirot that he believes Ratchett ought to have been “hanged-or electrocuted” for what he did, Poirot asks whether he prefers “private vengeance” to conventional law and order. Arbuthnot says that while there cannot be “blood feuds,” “trial by jury is a sound system.” Colonel Arbuthnot does not try to connect established State law and trial by jury, he sees the jury systems as an extension of “private vengeance.” The “sound system” that Arbuthnot makes reference to is the system that was used by him and other people connected to the Armstrong family to kill Ratchett: a group of twelve people deciding upon the fate of one. This type of “system” involves law and order distinct from the law and order provided by the state.

It seems that Poirot has an understanding of what Arbuthnot means by his statement. The detective says to him, ”I am sure that would be your view.”  While Poirot is uncertain as to the exact person or people who murdered Ratchett at this point, he is certain that whoever did it felt they were justified in the crime. The clue that is discovered in the bedroom specifically links the Armstrongs with the murder; whoever carried out the crime was in some way linked to the Armstrong family or sympathetic to them. It was certain that the murderer was avenging the crime committed against Daisy Armstrong. The statement made by Arbuthnot about “trial by jury” essentially reveals the justification and motivation for the crime. It additionally provides a moral basis for the crime.

In the novel’s conclusion, Linda Arden provides an explanation and the family’s justification for the murder. She declares to Poirot that the family was only acting on society’s condemnation of Ratchett: “It wasn’t only that he was responsible for my daughter’s death and her child’s and that of the other child who might have been alive and happy now…there had been other children kidnapped before Daisy…there might be others in the future…we were only carrying out the sentence.” It is fascinating that Linda Arden declares that law and society had already passed sentence on Ratchett, but that they lacked the ability to carry out the sentence. She explains that it was left to the Armstrong family to do so for them. In carrying out the murder, Linda Arden and the others imply that law isn’t effective. It not merely undermines law, but also promotes the power of individuals to “right” society. It also gives additional power to the private detective, making him a moral authority who decides if a crime such as this one is a crime at all. Murder on the Orient Express can be deemed a morality novel because it focuses a great deal on judging and defining the morality of murder.

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