The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as a Crime Fiction
Golden Age refers to the period between the First and the Second World War. And it refers to the crime fiction in particular and it includes the American authors as well, who wrote in the same vein. The general schemata of all the novels are almost same. The novel embodies multiple characters and all of them are possible suspects and the novels also make use of the due puzzle in order to find the actual criminal. The setting of the novel mostly takes place in an enclosed place as we find “Farley Park” in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Mostly the actions of these novels used to take place in a closed atmosphere or setting. This close setting provided the author the chance to avoid the larger social and historical issues.
Among her contemporary writers, Agatha Christie till date is the most popular writer and her popularity stems from the fact that she has made the use of “clue puzzle” form in a brilliant way. Her representation of the characters and providing small details about them helps the reader to identify that each of the characters engaged in the action seems to have a feasible motive of self-gratification that might be the foremost reason to murder and eventually all of them become a possible suspect.
The novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is different in the sense, because the narrative of the novel is under the control of the murderer. Doctor Sheppard is the narrator of the story. He is the Watson like figure and he himself commits the murder. By adopting this technique she has completely broken the traditions of the genre of the detective fiction. The narrator who is supposed to be the most reliable and trustworthy figure in the entire text turns out to be an unreliable narrator.
The society that Christie represents in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is almost a traditional one and this representation of a traditional British society is one of the characteristics of a Golden Age Detective Fiction. The number of characters represented is stereotypical and limited. She is, it seems, apparently more interested in the puzzle behind the mystery and not in society and internal fissures.
Roger Ackroyd is a rich and respectable man in his small village life. This established social position is the result of the amount of money he possesses. There is a doctor, the narrator and the murderer and his inquisitive and gossip mongering sister Caroline, who has got a “wonderful psychological insight into human nature” (Murder 3). Then we have Mrs. Ackroyd and Flora Ackroyd, dependent on Roger Ackroyd. Again there is Ralph Paton, the spend thrift weak-willed adopted son of Roger who is also dependent on Roger. There is also a visitor, Major Hector Blunt who is said to have, “shot more animals in unlikely places than any man living”. There are other characters like the ‘servant’ and the tradesman’. Mr. Ackroyd had several servants and also a secretary named Raymond. This caste is absolutely formulaic and matches with the tradition or pattern of writings that were to be found in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.
If we analyze the journey of the novel, we find that the novel moves towards a single direction to restore peace and something that gives a vision of a world that was fast vanishing. Sheppard’s act of murder is absolutely personal and has no connection whatsoever with social system that can be considered as flawed. This act has disrupted the world order which is later restored in King’s Abbot by the timely investigating procedures of Poirot. It is Poirot who could see through the mask of the reliable narrator that Dr. Sheppard was putting on. In the end he allowed Sheppard to commit suicide because if he did so, his reputation of being a good doctor would remain intact.
There will be no question mark on the normative patterns of village life in the near future. It is evident that after the resolution, Ralph Paton would be the legal owner of Ackroyd’s fortune and he would officially marry Ursula Bourne, a member of the ‘Irish gentle folk’, who had to stoop low due to poverty, but she earned her living through determination and hard work. Ralph might overcome his weakness after this marriage. Flora Ackroyd from now on would be financially independent and she could easily marry her lover Hector Blunt. All the other suspects are free from now on. Village life will now get back its normalcy and order will prevail again.
But even after this there are several questions that the murder raised. The novel shows how the desire for financial security seems to be the driving force of this society. Sheppard blackmailed Mrs. Ferrars because he had developed this vicious desire to accumulate more money through blackmailing. Flora, under tremendous financial pressures, stole money from Ackroyd’s room. Mrs. Ackroyd experienced same kind of pressure as she revealed that she rummaged Ackroyd’s desk to see what portion of money she was supposed to receive through Ackroyd’s will. The butler, Parker also had a previous record of blackmailing his former master. Even Ackroyd, who seemed to be a benevolent and admirable man, used his financial power as a weapon over Ralph and Flora. He decided the marriage of Ralph and Flora without for once asking them about their desires.
Again, if we consider Ralph’s character, he is extravagant and self-indulgent. It is this desire for money and financial security and the sense of power that money imports seems to be the driving force behind the wrongdoings of all the characters in the novel. The novel presents a society which is desirous for financial acquisition and a society based upon such desires can’t be flawless.
The society that the novel represents is flawed because almost every member of the society did something that is amoral in the normal sense, Mrs. Ferrars, hailing from the higher class of society and holding a respectable position is guilty of murdering her own husband. The doctor, on whom everyone in the village depends, did more harm to the society than providing the villagers with possible cure. Mrs. Russell had an illegitimate child which was kept secret so that the truth might not harm her reputation. Bourne secretly married Ralph. Then Mrs. Ackroyd and her daughter were also guilty as mentioned earlier.
The order of the society which was apparently settled lot of fissures underneath. But it is Hercules Poirot who, through his process of investigation, resettles the matter at least for the time being. But even after this resettling of the issues there will always remain some doubts which probably will never be surmounted. These things are not said but they are kept underneath following the tradition of the Golden Age Crime Fiction which eventually ends with the symbolic note as the harbinger of peace and order in the society.