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Taking Justice into One’s Own Hands
Administering justice where justice had been neglected is the primary motive for Justice Wargrave’s mass murder scheme, and one of the major Themes of this book. His actions, delusional and insane as they may have been, stemmed from a misguided desire to bring justice to those who had committed murders without consequence from the law. His murders were, in a sense, elaborately disguised executions.
Guilt’s Effect on People
The author reveals the inner thoughts of each character throughout the book, carefully demonstrating how each is obsessed with his or her past crime. The theme of guilt’s effect on people is demonstrated in how the characters’ obsession with their murder increases to the level of hysteria, hallucinations, and/or delusions over the course of the book. Those who survive the longest exhibit the greatest change in their psychological state. Although part of their increasing paranoia stems from the fear of being murdered by the unknown assassin among them, it is significant that a number of the characters dwell more and more on their past sin rather than devise clever ways to avoid death. This shows that guilt has, to some degree, numbed even their instinct for survival.
Appearances are Deceiving
All ten guests on Indian Island seem on the outside to be respectable and sane people. One of them, however, is a madman intent on murdering the others. Ironically, the killer, Justice Wargrave, was one of the more professional guests and arouses minimal suspicion in the group. Several of the others who are widely suspected prove their innocence by becoming Wargrave’s victims. This shows that benevolent appearances can hide inner evil and that suspicious exteriors can mask innocence within.
One’s Crimes Must Be Accounted For
Although the author is not trying to communicate that the mass murder of all the characters was justified, she does send the message that their past crimes wrought unforeseen consequences. Justice Wargrave plots to kill them all for the murders they committed without facing consequences from the authorities. Ultimately, however, each person must answer to their own conscience for the life they took, either indirectly or by direct murder. This is demonstrated in the inner thoughts each character experiences while en route to and on Indian Island; many of them are haunted by their crimes and even hallucinate about their victims. The most stark example is Vera Claythorne, who willingly hangs herself even after assuming she was safe from the murderer.
The mood of the book is suspenseful and thrilling. The tension and suspense gradually increase with each turning point in the plot, most notably when the characters admit that the deaths of their fellow guests are murders, not accidents or suicides, and when they realize the unknown murderer is one of them, not a madman hiding somewhere on the island. With each new victim, the surviving characters become more and more guarded, distrusting, hysterical, and hyper-focused on self- preservation. The power of the book is that although ample foreshadowing tells the reader that all ten characters are sure to be murdered, the suspense and possibilities for altered outcomes keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Within a predictable plot framework, there is complete unpredictability and thus heightened suspense.