“The murder of Roger Ackroyd consciously problematizes the detective as a masculine hero” (Susan Rowland).
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a novel written by Agatha Christie published in June 1926. It takes place in a village known as King’s Abbot, where Hercule Poirot, once retired, goes in order to find peace after many years of working as a private detective. Some days after his arrival, a murder is committed. Mr. Roger Ackroyd has been found killed. It is when Flora, Ackroyd’s niece, asks Poirot to come out of retirement and solve the crime. Since he loves being a detective, he accepts the case with any doubt and he begins to investigate it. The first clear suspect is Ralph Paton, although everyone’s innocence is questionable. The novel is narrated by Dr Sheppard, and as it goes on, the reader realises that Hercule Poirot is not a common detective because of his peculiar way of working. Having acknowledged that information, in this essay I will be arguing if, as Susan Rowland says, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) consciously problematizes the detective, in this case Hercule Poirot, as a masculine hero.
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Hercule Poirot is a usual character in Christie’s books. He is an intelligent, often overconfident Belgian detective with a superb ability for the dramatic. “He is not motivated by money, or by any concrete reward for his ingenuity; rather he seems to take on cases because of an abstract, philosophical interest in human behaviour and a general desire to solve puzzles that seem inscrutable to others” (Arn, 2017). In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), one of the themes treated is the power of method and logic. Here, Poirot stands out because, as I cited before, he does not work for money in contradistinction to Inspector Raglan, Inspector Davis, and Colonel Melrose. They want to finish the case as soon as possible, so when they have some evidence that could be used to prove Ralph Paton’s guilt, they stop investigating so they can start another different case. They are more concern about getting credit for their job and make money. In contrast, Poirot does not give up as easily as they do and does not care about numbers because it is Poirot’s curiosity about human behaviour which makes him investigate cases until everything makes sense, paying a lot of attention to every single word that people say when he asks about the murder, and to every single detail inside and outside the crime scene. For example, in the novel when he says “It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting” (Christie 2013 , p. 87) referring to why and who would have moved the chair, a Chekhov’s gun, of its normal position. Or the moment when he asks about the state of the fire in the fireplace. Also, when Raglan, Sheppard and Poirot are discussing about the telephone call Sheppard receives after the murder is committed and Poirot says, “When we find the explanation of that telephone call we shall find the explanation of the murder” (Christie 2013 , p. 144). He believes that the phone call is the key to understand the case, although in that moment he have made few inquiries into the call due to the complexity of that element of the case. He knows that the only way to understand it is to solve the rest of the case first. There is one more moment in which his ingenuity is clear. That is when Poirot and Dr. Sheppard meet with the family and he says, “Every one of you in this room is concealing something from me”. This statement is important, not just in the book but also for the mystery genre in general – even if they are innocent, almost everyone has some kind of secret. And Poirot knows that. Besides, there are many times in the novel in which he refers to the use of his “little grey cells”. He is alluding to his brainpower, to the grey matter of the brain, those cells that he uses to solve the crimes. But also, he is speaking about his unique style of detection. He is a rational and empirical detective, but what makes him different is that he also permits his intuition to show him the way.
One more theme treated in the novel is the confrontation of law and ethics. An aspect that makes Poirot’s style so characteristic is the fact that there are times in which, in order to get to the bottom of the matter, he does not follow the rules. At different points in the novel, he shows he is willing not to obey the law, to lie, and even to manipulate suspects. He has his own personal code of what is wrong and what is right when it comes to solving an important case. He follows his own ethical principles. Because of that, it is said that Raglan represents the law whereas Poirot portrays the ethics. A clear example of his lies is the moment in which he requests Dr. Sheppard’s help analysing an eyewitness about the blackmail issue and Poirot tells him “I hope it was he” (Christie 2013 , p. 200) referring to Parker. But, actually, he has a second theory about who might be, and he is worried about it being true, which is an early sign that he may already be considering Sheppard with suspicion. Another example of how he manipulates suspects is when the real reason why Poirot asks Parker and Flora to recreate the scene of the crime is revealed: he wants Flora to admit that she has been lying about her alibi, so she confesses that she is the thief of the stolen money the night of the murder. Moreover, in chapter 20, Poirot admits that he is often disposed to take matters into his own hands, even if it means acting somewhat immorally. It is when he publishes a fake story in the press about Ralph Paton being arrested, with the aim of deceiving some of the accused into presenting themselves. Most people would believe that write false news in the newspaper is an illegal act, but for Poirot justifies it by the fact that it may point the way to get to the bottom of the crime. Poirot does not always realize everything, but if there is something he is superb at, it is to know how to behave towards suspects and persuade them to mention unknown information that might be beneficial to the case. As it happens when he tells Miss Russell that Charles Kent has been arrested and Miss Russell ends up telling him that Charles went to see her in the summerhouse. One more exemplification of Poirot’s work ethic is in almost the end of the novel, when the reader already knows that Dr. Sheppard is the killer. Poirot is ready to turn Sheppard in to the police, but he gives him another way of scape: suicide. While a police man would be forced by law to arrest Sheppard, Poirot follows a nearly undetectable and ethical strategy: to care for Caroline from the shock of discovering that her brother is a murderer, Dr. Sheppard can kill himself and Poirot will cram into Raglan’s head not to publish the verdict of the investigation. With his hybrid signature of intuition, logic, and empiricism, Poirot has discovered the truth. But Poirot is not just interested in truth – he is also committed to justice: preventing the truth from causing distress to other people, such as Caroline.
As a consequence of everything said before, Hercule Poirot has not been considered a masculine hero in its entirety. In part because, as Sally R. Munt says in Murder by the Book? Feminism and the crime novel (1994):
He embodies most clearly the “feminine”. He is a parody of the male myth; his name implies his satirical status: he is shortened Hercules, and a poirot – a clown. He is narcissistic, emotive, feline, apparently irrational, eccentric, quixotic, obsessed with the domestic, and socially “other” in that he is Belgian. In Christie’s first book, The Mysterious affair at Styles (1920), he is often referred to as a “little man” – not a man, but inferior. He is a feminine hero.
The female-authored detectives, Agatha Christie among them, have an ethic of anti-heroism due to the traumatised consequences of the First World War. Susan Rowland in her book From Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell: British Women Writers in Detective and Crime Fiction (2001) says:
A particular constituent in the anti-heroic detective is the way personal weaknesses and vulnerabilities are not external to the success of investigations but intrinsic to them. That which appears as “excessive” or unnecessary to the detective fiction becomes a vital ingredient of success. Hercule Poirot is remarkable for wearing his weaknesses on his sleeve. He is frequently despised for his attention to domestic details and gossip, but his espousal of what are characterised as “feminine” methods of investigation in the novel proves crucial.
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In The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) there is an early opposition between professional masculine science and feminine gossip intuition which is defeated by the arrival of “feminised” Poirot. He defends Caroline’s form of social detection by rationalising her inexplainable traces of instinct into cunning skills of social perception. “Some occult traces remain, however, and accrue to Poirot as he describes an interrogation of suspects as a séance” (Rowland 2001, p. 27).
As has been mentioned, Hercule Poirot is an uncommon detective. He is brilliant and arrogant, and he does not work for money but for his love for crime’s art. He does not give up with ease when it comes to solve a case and he is very careful with little details, as the fire and the chair. He also alludes multiple times to his brainpower when he is doing his job. Poirot is superb in his area, but a lot of time he breaks the rules to reach the truth, which makes that sometimes it seems as if he portrays the ethics while Inspector Raglan represents the law. To put in other words, it is true that The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) consciously problematizes Hercule Poirot. He is not a masculine hero because he is an outstanding detective who many times works based on his feelings and his intuition more than on the clues that he discovers along the investigation. In those years in which the novel is written, in the 1920s, patriarchy is highly present not just in the British society itself but also in culture, among other areas. The fact that Christie creates a character which is not the common detective man who predominates in British society is a very radical idea since at that time gender roles are very defined and designated. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) by Agatha Christie is a remarkable and, at the same time, superbly conventional novel, making it special, as many other novels in which it happens, the fact that Hercule Poirot appears in it and break all the detective rules.
- Arn, Jackson. 2017. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Characters: Hercule Poirot (“Mr. Porrot”) LitCharts. https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-murder-of-roger-ackroyd/characters/hercule-poirot-mr-porrot. Consulted 20.10.18
- Arn, Jackson. 2017. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Themes: Detection and Intellect. LitCharts. https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-murder-of-roger-ackroyd/themes/detection-and-intellect. Consulted 20.10.18
- Arn, Jackson. 2017. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Themes: Law vs. Ethics. LitCharts. https://www.litcharts.com/lit/the-murder-of-roger-ackroyd/themes/law-vs-ethics. Consulted 20.10.18
- Christie, A. 2013 . The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. 16 ed. London: HarperCollinsPublishers.
- Internet 1. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chekhov%27s_gun. Consulted 20.10.18
- Munt, S. R., 1994. Murder by the book? Feminism and the crime novel. London: Routledge.
- Rowland, S., 2001. From Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell: British Women Writers in Detective and Crime Fiction. New York: PALGRAVE.
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