The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Analysis
There are two major issues apart from the question “who did it” that is to say who is the murderer of Roger Ackroyd that looms large throughout the text. Firstly, the element of timing and a measured reticence or what we may say half-truth in the narrative. This entire thing is veiled by the presence of a love story between Ralph Paton and Flora Ackroyd. But interestingly enough, it was discovered later that the story of their love is also partially true. It is not that the plot of the novel doesn’t entail love story but instead of one there exists two love affairs-one between Ralph and Ursula, the parlour maid and the other between Flora and Hector. Ralph and Flora came close not out of any emotional attachment but due to their situational conditions as both of them were surviving under the patronage of Roger Ackroyd and both of them lacked financial credibility. Normally what happens in a murder mystery is that the clues of the murder are generally sought in the love story. Hence, when Ralph was missing from the night when Ackroyd was murdered, it was inevitable that each and every one and even the readers would suspect him to be the possible murderer.
The novel opens with James returning home “just a few minutes after nine” and he was late for breakfast. Then he went on to discuss the death of Mrs. Ferrars with Caroline and while discussing he says that he has got into the “habit of continually withholding all information from [his sister”(Murder 2). This is a metaphor that seems to continue throughout the novel and the narrator has successfully withheld the major information from the readers as well as from all the other characters in the text. Then the second chapter moves on to narrate the love affair between Mrs. Ferrars and Ackroyd. This chapter can be considered to be the beginning point of the mystery. This chapter can also be called an exposition chapter since it introduces us to the other characters in the novel who are the possible suspects as well. In the conversation between
James and Caroline, James, the narrator moves to “describe [their] local in geography” (Murder 7). The narration begins in an intriguing way. He says “there are only two houses of any importance in King’s Abbot”. Then he mentions the two houses, king’s Paddock whose owner was Mrs. Ferrars and the Fernly Park, owned by Roger Ackroyd.
The discussion between Caroline and James is halted by the fact that the narrator, Doctor Sheppard moves to introduce other characters in the novel Secondly, there is another hindrance in the narration with the advent of Mrs. Russel, the housekeeper of Mr. Ackroyd in the clinic of Doctor Sheppard with her pain in the knee. Alistair Rolls rightly claims that this strategy can be seen as a ploy or “a survival mechanism, whose double purpose is to stand in for the truth, thereby hiding, whole simultaneously symbolizing or pointing to it”. But before the arrival of Mrs. Russell, Dr. Sheppard had already gone on to narrate her physical appearance in front of the readers. He says, “Ackroyd’s housekeeper is a tall woman handsome but forbidding in appearance” (2). Similarly, regarding Mrs. Ferrars, he said, “Mrs. Ferrars, though not in her first youth, was a very attractive woman and her clothes though simple, always seemed to fit very well….(3).As a reader we must also remember that Sheppard in his conversation with Hercules Poirot has mentioned that Caroline is eight years older than her.
The novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a tale of hidden relationships. Roger Ackroyd was in love with Mrs. Ferrars. He also tried to convince her that it will not be improper to make their relationship public after her husband’s death a year ago. Ralph Paton and Ursula Boume’s marriage was kept secret because they both hailed from different social and economic backgrounds. Flora Ackroyd and Hector Blunt’s relationship was also in total darkness because Hector was comparatively older than Flora and secondly, it was also thought that Flora was romantically involved with Ralph. Mrs. Russell also hid the fact that Kent was her illegitimate child, who was also thought to be her lover. Looking at all these relationships it can be said that all these relationships are associated with an element of taboo if it is seen from the Freudian perspective. Another thing that has to be kept in mind is that Flora and Ralph were supposed to get married. Technically they are brothers and sisters. It is because Ralph was the adapted son of Mr. Ackroyd and Flora was his brother’s daughter. Hence it turns out that Flora is actually a niece to Ralph. Their relationship may have some incestuous colour in it though not directly. Another relationship that has an element of incest associated with it is between Miss Russel and Kent. Through later it was revealed that Kent was her son.
Apart from these relationships there is probably another relationship that runs parallel throughout the text which is equally incestuous and which probably has gone unnoticed in the eyes of the readers. The incestuous relationship between James and Caroline is referred to here. The opening chapter shows enough instances of the nature of their relationship. When James enters Caroline asks. “Is that you James” (1). And the narrator then says to his readers. An unnecessary question, since who else could it be?’ (1). The answer reflects that Caroline’s question was unnecessary. There is a hidden implication that there can be no one except James because Caroline and he are the only two inhabitants in the house and there is no one to intrude into their private space.
In the earlier section of this essay, Doctor Sheppard is an unreliable narrator and he has been continually reeling the truth from the readers. This is another truth probably that he has tried to cover up. There are several other instances where the incestuous nature of their relationship can be felt. Seeing Caroline after Sheppard came back home treating a couple of patients he says. “Caroline was sitting beside the wreck of tea things. She had that look of suppressed exultation on her face which I know only too well” (Murder 136). This knowledge of her sister’s mental attributes also points to the fact that they have a bond more than siblings normally share.
Even if we look at their nature they complement each other. It is Caroline who gathers and collects information. Sheppard says, “Caroline can do any amount of finding out by sitting placidly at home”. He further states that, “when she goes out it is not to gather information, but to spread it. At that, too she is amazingly expert.” (2).On the contrary it is James who doesn’t believe in spreading of news and information. If one reads Agatha Christie’s biography, it will be found that these two features are present in Christie herself. It is revealed in her biography that her mother scolded for exaggerating a family issue and before that she was also rebuked for not informing her of another incident. Rolls rightly claims that the author as a young indeed, the tendency not to part with information, if at first self-consciously a performance, certainly became her hallmark.”
The novel, as it has already been mentioned, is a story of secret love affairs. The secrecy attains another dimension when it takes the form of incestuous relationship between Caroline and Sheppard. If we look at the domestic life of Caroline and James there are enough references that will signify that their relationship is incestuous in nature. There are at least three references in the text where we find that they share their bed together.
There has been a long debate on the issue that whether a nature of a person or the circumstances has induced the crime. Psychological theories have always been concerned about the possible reasons behind a criminal act. This has resulted into the formation of nature-nurture debate which focuses on the nature of the individual or the environmental circumstances inducing the criminal sensibilities within an individual. Psychologists have argued that neither nature nor nurture alone can completely be detrimental for an individual to commit a crime. Both motives and desires play equally important role there.
In this text we find that the narrator turns out to be the murderer and this subtle change somewhat comes as a shock for the readers of this detective fiction. It is more so because, generally in a detective fiction, the narrator is mostly an innocent and trustworthy figure. If we look at Sheppard’s role in the novel we find that he was responsible for taking the lives of two people. Firstly, he blackmailed Mrs. Ferrars after he came to know that she killed her husband and when it became almost unbearable for Mrs. Ferrars, she committed suicide. Secondly, he killed Ackroyd because Ferrars, tried to reveal the name of the blackmailer to Ackroyd through a letter before her death. Fearing that he might be exposed, Sheppard murdered Ackroyd. His actions seem to stem from his unconscious feeling of social castration due to his lower economic background and also his uncontrolled greed, something that can only be compared with Kurtz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. This act of Sheppard can be understood through Robert Morton’s Strain Theory, where he says that a crime is mostly the result of the strain an individual experiences within a society. Doctor Sheppard was a middle class professional physician and his excessive greed propelled him to commit the crime of blackmailing. At the same time he was equally afraid of punishment and this fear of retribution and exposure ultimately led him to murder Ackroyd, The fear was strong within him is reflected when in the final chanter he says, “All along I’ve had a premonition of disaster from the moment I saw Ralph Paton and Mrs. Ferrars with their heads together under 996)His fear that has always been there inside him is further reinforced in the same chapter when he says. “my greatest fear all through has been a line 1 have fancied she might guess. Curious the way she spoke that the day of my “strain of weakens” (298). What is interesting is that not for once did Sheppard consider himself to be guilty or rather he had a sense of remorse within him. This is evident when he says,
“Not that I take any responsibility of Mrs. Ferrar’s death. It direct consequence of her own actions. I feel no pit for her. I have no pity for myself either.”
The last statement shows his excessive desire of survival even when he knows that he is the reason behind the death of two individuals. The lack of remorse from his part may emanate from the fact that he held a very high esteem for himself and he was supremely confident in his profession. This is felt when in Mrs. Folliot’s home he realized that she was not at all comfortable in revealing about Ursula Bourne and the doctor says, “One advantage of being a medical practitioner is that you can usually tell when people are lying to you (136). Three things stand out for Doctor Sheppard. Firstly, he is a man of extremely high self-esteem. Secondly, he suffers form no sense of remorse or guilt and finally he lacks self-control. He is a man who is guided more by pleasure principal than the reality principle. It can be concluded that Sheppard’s crime was due to his lack of self-control and high self-esteem. His esteemed self didn’t allow him to scrutinize his act because he was always under the illusion that whatever he was doing could not be wrong.
All the other characters in text had similar hidden secrets and desires and overpowering sense of greed but obviously not as powerful as it was in the case of Dr. Sheppard. But the basic instincts of all the characters were to gain money for themselves and hence secure their economic as well as social status. Mrs. Ferrars killed her husband by the overdose of veronal and this gave opportunity to Sheppard to blackmail her. Flora stole money from Ackroyd’s room. She was ready to marry Ralph with the view that it might settle her economic distress that she was in. Same was the case with Ralph Paton. He was afraid to reveal his secret marriage with Ursula because he was afraid that if his secret was made public then Roger might disinherit him from his property. Similarly, Mrs. Ackroyd searched for the will because she was equally uncertain about her future. Parker was also equally guilty since he had the past history of blackmailing his former employer. But there are three characters whose secrets are not directly related to money but there is an indirect connection that can be felt. Ursula Bourne’s secret marriage with Ralph was kept secret not due to her desire to attain financial security. Mrs. Russell didn’t want the secret of her illegitimate child to become public because she was afraid that she might not get any respectable home where she could work. Major Blunt’s secret affair with Flora is kept secret but it is directly or indirectly related to his desire to gain financial security.
This analysis reflects the hidden motives and desires of all the characters and helps the readers in having an understanding of what role does the inner psychological state of a man play while committing an act of crime.
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