ELEMENT OF PATRIARCHY IN ‘THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD’
Published in June 1926, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is often regarded as the ‘Queen of Mystery’ novels. In fact, in the year 2013 i.e. after 87 years of its publication, the novel was voted by the British Crime Writer’s association as the best crime novel ever. Since the award come decades after Christie’s demise, it proved instrumental in re-stimulating a worldwide need for fictions and writers as great as ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ and ‘Agatha Christie’ respectively.
Born in the era of world wars, cold war and also one where in women were highly disregarded and their creations underrated, Christie managed to defy the odds and even in the 19th and 20th century when the world and even the British society was in transition, she managed to leave her mark and she must have been an inspiration to numerous other people, especially women, who would have been struggling in their lives amidst global instability. Even today when women subjugation is equally prevalent, Christie’s story and her writings prove to be highly inspirational and thus Christie can also, in a way, be regarded a feminist who not only proved herself in a man’s world but has also ever since been an inspiration to lakhs of women around the world.
The irony however is that, Agatha being a renowned female writer and a perceived feminist, has at no juncture in her novel given due regard to the female characters. The protagonists are all male characters and the story revolves around them only. The females have been in the story placed just as they were in the then British and world societies i.e. the roles assigned to females and female characters in both a society and in her novel were insignificant, their presence only made the setup complete but it would be wrong to say that without them the story would have been incomplete.
In this paper, we will be going through the major characters and will analyze how vital was their role in ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ and how would have the story been without them. And thus examine the extent of the societal patriarchal trend in Christie’s one of the most famous crime novel ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’.
ABOUT THE STORY:
The story is setup in a British town/village named ‘King’s Abbot’ and it begins with a murder, not of Roger Ackroyd but of a woman named Mrs Ferras who was allegedly involved in her husband’s murder and in an affair with Mr. Roger Ackroyd. Later in the story we find that the allegations were all true. The second murder in the story turns out to be of Mr. Roger Ackroyd, a wealthy widower of King’s Abott and a step father to Ralph Paton, another protagonist in the novel. The blame for murder is first laid on the Parker by the investigating officer but later on as the story progresses and as they come across evidences, the blame shifts from parker to Ralph Paton and surprisingly enough, the conviction is strengthened by his sudden disappearance. Ms Flora Ackroyd, Mr. Ackroyd’s neice and Ralph Paton’s to be fiancé calls upon Hercule poirot (the main detective) to investigate the murder for she is certain of Ralph’s innocence but is also afraid of the manner in which the investigation was turning against him.
Hercule Poirot along with a local Dr. Shephard (narrator) who was the first person to know of Ackroyd’s murder through a phone call, begin a parallel private investigation of the matter. In the process they investigate all the suspects i.e. all those who were present in the house at the time of murder and also all the servants and maids at Fernly Park (mansion of Roger Ackroyd). After some investigation, Poirot too becomes certain of Ralph’s innocence but the murder mystery still remains unsolved and Ralph’s disappearance was all the more puzzling. Added on to the murder mystery was a, later revealed, theft of some money. Poirot soon manages to find out who stole the money and in doing so, he also finds out that the last person to see Mr. Ackroyd wasn’t Flora for she had actually not visited Mr. Ackroyd at all and therefore it was possible that the investigation had so long been going in the wrong direction as the murder time could have possibly been different than what they had assumed to be. Baffled by the challenging case and also by people’s indifference towards murder and investigation, Poirot realizes that all the characters had something or the other to hide and their indifference was an outcome of the same. Poirot requests everyone to comeout with whatever truths they were hiding for their revelations would help him solve the case. This trick works well and one by one each and every one of them, through one or another, convey their truths to Poirot who had almost solved the mystery but was still unable to answer a few questions like, who was the man who had come to visit Fernly Park the night when Roger Ackroyd was murdered and where was Ralph Paton and who had called and informed Dr Shephard of Ackroyd’s murder and where was that Blue envelope which contained in a letter the name of the person who had blackmailing Mrs Ferras and because of whom she committed suicide.
After a few days of investigation, Poirot manages to solve the mystery and also finds out Ralph Paton. Mrs Ferras commited murder for she was being blackmailed by Dr. Shephard who had proof that she had murdered her husband, Dr. Shephard was blackmailing her for money but Mrs Ferras soon runs out of money and commits suicide. Before dying she wanted to reveal the name of the blackmailer to Mr. Ackroyd, to whom she was supposed to marry soon. The name of the blackmailer is sent to Ackroyd in a letter which he accidently receives after dinner and during a discussion with Dr. Shephard. Dr. Shephard realized that his game was over and therefore he kills Mr. Ackroyd and creates the entire setup full of complexity and an almost unsolvable case.
ELEMENT OF PATRIACHY:
Murder is a bold act which requires courage while a murder investigation is a continuous process which requires a skilled mind.
Though the novel entails a number of characters viz, Dr. Shephard, Hercule Poirot, Ralph Paton, Mr. Ackroyd, Hector Blunt, Parker, Raymond, Ms Caroline, Ms Ackroyd, Mrs Ackroyd, Ms Ursula Bourne, Mrs Russel and the inspector, there are also a few smaller characters which do not develop in the course of the text and their role is either to introduce or to complicate the text, such characters include Mrs Ferras, the stranger and Ursula Bourne’s sister, the main murder mystery however revolves all around four of these listed characters i.e. Ralph Paton (the prime suspect all throughout the text), Hercule Poirot ( the prime detective), Dr. Shephard (the person who first finds out of the death of Mr. Ackroyd and also the one guilty of murder) and Mrs Ferras (the woman who initiated the entire chain of reactions by murdering her husband). Thus it is possible to say that the story would have been complete even without the inclusion of other characters and the reason why Christie has included them is only to serve the purpose of complicating the text by adding on to the number of possible culprits thereby ensuring reader’s full attention. The murder and the mystery would have been complete even without the inclusion of these characters. The fact which requires even more attention is that all these important characters in the novel were males except Mrs Ferras whose role is important by the fact that it is her action (of murdering her husband) that led to the entire sequence of blackmail followed by her suicide and then the murder of Roger Ackroyd, thus in a manner, even Mrs Ferras’ role in the murder and the mystery encircling the murder of Roger Ackroyd is but a puny one. Murder and solving a murder mystery has been a man’s thing in most of the detective novels and movies and this was further showcased in this text by Agatha Christie. It wouldn’t have been surprising had the element of Patriarchy been displayed by a male author but for someone like Christie, a female and a perceived apostle of female empowerment to carry on the same trend in her text.
All that are needed to complete a murder mystery are a) motive b) Murderer c) murdered and d) investigator, surprisingly enough, Christie found only men befitting for these roles in her novel and thus adding a patriarchal touch to her novel.
We shall now discuss in brief how all of the female characters in the novel had an insignificant role.
Sister of Dr. Shephard, Caroline’s entire act in the story is restricted and bounded inside her home, except once when she went out for walk and over heard Ralph Paton talking to a woman. Caroline, in the entire text, makes up her own thesis and her solves the case in her own alone self which she at times gets to share with Dr. Shephard or Poirot, if any of the two are interested in hearing them. The life and the role of Caroline is limited to the conversations she has with the neighbors and the assumptions she draw out of them. Neither is she instrumental in the murder nor in solving it. She is in fact used by Christie as a character who leads the readers to a whole new aspect of the murder and thus making the novel unpredictable. However Caroline as a citizen of King’s Abbot and as a character in ‘the murder of Roger Ackroyd’ is an insignificant figure. The murder would have happened and have even been solved without her presence in the novel.
2. Flora Ackroyd and Mrs Ackroyd
It was only unfortunate for Mrs Ackroyd to be present in the house at the time of the murder who usually lived elsewhere and sustained on Ackroyd’s money. Though Flora’s role could still be regarded as somewhat important for she was the one who called Poirot to look into the murder and find out who the real culprit was but beyond this little act, her role is only to lighten up the tensed murder scene by her candid romance with Hector Blunt (a clichéd feminine role) she also adds on to the mystery by being the one to steal the money. The significance of her role was lost the moment when she called upon Poirot, the renowned detective, to solve the murder for because in a murder mystery the significant characters are only those who stay under the scanner till the end, where as she was proved innocent the moment she called upon Poirot to solve the case.
Mrs Ackroyd, yet another insignificant female in the story, is shown as a desperate woman who knows feels nothing but the urge to satiate her materialistic desires. One may be tempted to consider her as a suspect but the fact that Mrs. Ferras’ suicide was related with Mr. Ackroyd’s murder and that Mrs. Ackroyd was not related to Mrs Ferras, steers her clear away from the list of suspects. Furthermore, Mr Ackroyd was for Mrs Ackroyd a never drying stream of money and it would have only been stupid for her to kill him. Christie has placed her in the novel to give her readers an insight into the miserly character of Ackroyd’s nature in order to introduce him even further and even after his death. Thus the role of both Mrs and Ms. Ackroyd is insignificant in the context of murder and the mystery revolving around it.
3. Ursula Bourne
The stranger with whom Ralph Paton was talking and was over heard by Caroline was none but Ursula Bourne. She turns out to be the woman who had an affair with Ralph Paton. Being a servant and that too a poor one, she was primarily suspected of being the person who stole the money. Though the mystery surrounding her was a lot more significant than that which surrounded either Caroline or Mrs. And Ms. Ackroyd yet her involvement in the text was kept limited to an affair with Ralph and was nowhere involved in the murder.
4. Mrs Russell
Mother of the stranger who visited the Fernly Park at the night of Ackroyd’s murder and the first person to have shown disturbed or abnormal behavior when Dr. Shephard first visited Mr. Ackroyd for dinner and saw her panting as if she had been running. Since any murder requires a motive and in this case the motive was somehow related to Mrs. Ferras and the blackmail thus it was difficult to suspect her for the murder yet her actions did keep the fingers pointing on her and till the very end of the text, she remained one of the suspects of murder. Since she was not the murderer, she too had been placed in the text along with her son only to add on to the list of possible suspects.
As previously stated, a murder mystery requires a) motive/intention, b) murderer, c) murdered and d) an investigator. The era in which Christie wrote most of her books was one which was completely dominated by men. Men ruled while the women were ruled upon. The sorry state in which most of the women were, made this subjugation all the more possible. Men displayed their calamitous might in the world wars which happened in the same era. And unlike today, women weren’t much involved in world beyond their homes and perhaps thus, murders and murder mysteries revolved all around men which is a patriarchal trend. The same trend was highlighted by Christie in her work ‘The murder of Roger Ackroyd’ as well.