In the novel, Murder on the Orient Express, the topic of justice and judgment is the main theme. The questioning of whether the murder of Casseti, also known as Ratchett, was morally correct and just was a conflict throughout the novel . Justice and judgment are ultimately decided by detective Poirot. The Murder on the Orient Express showed quite often how the characters considered the murder committed to be a heinous, yet justifiable act. Through detective Poirot, the author, Agatha Christie, allows the questioning of whether or not the murder can be justfied. Throughout the novel, the possibilities for the murder of Ratchett was justified through morality, revenge, and deceitfulness.
In Murder on the Orient Express, there were many instances as to how morality plays a role in the topic of justice and judgment. One main instance of how morality played a role is in the murder of Ratchett. Morality comes into play as the detective starts questioning the passengers. In one instance, Detective Poirot questions PrincessDragomiroff, “You do not believe in doing your utmost to further the ends of justice?” “In this case, I consider that justice - strict justice - has been done.” (Christie 143) Princess Dragomiroff aboard the Orient Express believes that justice has been served to Ratchett. She believes it is morally okay since he was evil in her eyes, and affected the people around him in a negative way. Also, an important twist that Christie put in the novel was that every passenger aboard the train knew Ratchett in some way and resented him. Questioning of Ratchett’s murder and whether it was deserved and moral, is where detective Periott began understanding each passenger on board and how they were connected with Ratchett. Christie developed the characters so well that their thought process in the murder of Ratchett was understood and justified as a moral act. Christie also delved into each character and their individual relationship with Ratchett, allowing for such a motive for each to have to quite literally backstab him. It was coming clear to Detective Poirot that through his questioning and stories he heard by the 12 passegers who knew Ratchett, that they were all involved in the murder and that Ratchett was an evil man who deserved to die. This caused Detective Poirot to be quite conflicted in his decision making. Ultimately, the decision made by Detective Poirot is impossible to justify because it goes against his responsibilities to uphold the law, “Nobody can justify or forgive.” (Source 4: Verbalization of concept of “vigilante justice”). No one person can make the distinction of whether an action is just or to be forgiven since everyone has different definitions and moral means to which they justify. This is tied to the morality of each character and whether committing a murder of someone so heinous was morally wrong. To process this, the detective digs deeper into the backstory of each suspect to better understand the motive for such a morbid act.
This also comes up when detective Periott is giving his final verdict to all the characters, “Ratchett escaped justice in America. There was no question as to his guilt. I visualized a self-appointed jury of twelve people who condemned him to death and were forced by exigencies of the case to be their own executioners.” (Christie 95). In this quote, Poriott is emphasizing how they became not only the executioners of the trial but the jury since there were 12 passengers. This deals with morality because in the court system, we have 12 jurors who decide whether a defendant is guilty of the crimes they have been accused of. In this case, the 12 jurors are the characters who committed the crimes, and Detective Poriott gives them the choice of how they will decide on the verdict. Detective Poirot allows them the choice of the truth, to turn themselves in and tell the truth on how they all committed the crimes, or stick with the statements of the passengers. Each of them had strong alibis. This is the moral decision of Detective Periott because he knows that they all committed the murder. However, each passenger claimed it to be seeking justice and serving justice for the heinous acts that Ratchett committed. “Taken under this light, we can understand Poirott's final gathering of the passengers in an entirely different way”... “We get to see the realization of our vigilante desires and be freed of guilt for having them because there is no guilt in having them.” (Source 5: Traveling Detectives: The 'Logic of Arrest'' and the Pleasures of (Avoiding) the Real). Detective Poirot uses his moral compass rather than his duty of the law to make his justification that the crimes committed were justifiable to make-up for the wrongdoing of an evil Ratchett.
Another way morality is shown through justice and judgment is through the alibis of the passengers. Christie gives the rationale behind killing Ratchett, “Society had condemned him; we were only carrying out the sentence.” (Christie 89). Princess Dragomiroff explains how the effort made by each character was just and they were serving Ratchett with the death penalty. Princess Dragomiroff then supports her statements by including society’s condemnation of Ratchett. To add to the moral compass that Poirot shows, “Poirot does not arrest the criminals because they are not criminals. There is only one true criminal in ‘Murder on the Orient Express,’ the abominable Mr. Ratchett.” (Source 5: Traveling Detectives: The 'Logic of Arrest' and the Pleasures of (Avoiding) the Real). In this quote, it explains how Poirot chooses not to arrest the passengers aboard because he is agreeing with the revenge each individual took as morally acceptable.
Revenge also played a role in Murder on the Orient Express. Throughout the entirety of the novel, revenge is evident, since getting vengeance on Ratchett is the reason for the whole story. In the book, the elements of vengeance and retribution become the focus for Detective Poirot as he realizes, 'The question we have now to ask ourselves is this,' he said. 'Is this murder the work of some rival gang whom Cassetti had double-crossed in the past, or is it an act of private vengeance?' (Christie 112). Poirot in this quote is questioning who has taken revenge on Ratchett. The theme of revenge revolves around the characters getting retribution on Ratchett for murdering an innocent three-year-old girl, Daisy Armstrong. Due to the evil of Ratchett, the passengers took it upon themselves to carry out the sentence he got awway with in America.Revenge for justice was a plot theme Christie used in other novels as well, “Viewing ‘Appointment with Death’, in relation to the ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ we will see how Christie weaves a geopolitical mystery satire out of her Oriental mysteries and with relationships she establishes teasingly with her readers”(SOURCE). Murdering out of revenge has become a theme with Christie’s other murder novels and Appointment with Death creates a close storyline to Murder on the Orient Express. Much like in the Appointment of Death, revenge on the main character in the book becomes the climax and ultimately revenge is the resolution. Murder on the Orient Express becomes synonymous with the other novel Chrisite wrote as she spends time developing her chracters and the themes of her novels carry over through her different works.
Much like the topic of morality, revenge is also seen through the alibis and testaments from the characters aboard the train. It comes quite apparent that no one is sorry for stabbing Ratchet, 'If ever a man deserved what he got, Ratchett or Cassetti is the man. I'm rejoicing at his end. Such a man wasn't fit to live!' (Christie 144). Ratchett was not convicted of the crime he committed and got away with it. In this case, one of the passengers, MaQueen, expressed that Ratchet's murder was just and he would accept the consequences if had to stab him again. MacQueen’s explanation relates to how justice was served through society, “It is an act of retribution done by a person who can be called ‘vigilante’...who takes the law into his/her own hands by trying (judging) or punishing the other person,” (SOURCE). The act of retribution done by a person in a certain case of revenge is justified as the concept of “vigilante justice.” Vigilante justice is the character's way of justifying the crimes the passengers on board the train committed. The passengers believe their actions are just and that Ratchett got the right judgment for his actions.
Much like MacQueen's statements made about the murder, Linda Arden, another passenger aboard, also had a very similar dialogue with Poriott in her confession. She stated, 'I would have stabbed that man twelve times willingly. It wasn't only that he was responsible for my daughter's death and her child's”...“There had been other children before Daisy – there might be others in the future.' (Christie 159). In this quote, Linda admits that she would have murdered Ratchett by herself if it came down to it. Her motive is strong in getting revenge considering she wanted justice for Daisy. Murder on the Orient Express is one of the many examples of how Christie uses revenge as the main theme, “Representation of the concept of ‘vigilante justice’ in Agatha Christie’s creative works using Prof. Bogin’s method of comprehension.”(verbalization of concept of “vigilante justice”) Christie's way of showing revenge in some of her novels is through comprehension and understanding the story before stating the reasons. In Murder on the Orient Express, she uses the storyline of each individual aboard the train and their past relationshsips with Ratchett, to then fully understand the revenge story of the novel and whether or not taking revenge is just.
Another theme that plays an important role in the novel Murder on the Orient Express is lies and deceit. This is particularly evident when Detective Poirot begins to question the passengers. All passengers created solid alibi’s to prove their innocence, 'In my opinion, M. Poirot,' he said, 'the first theory you put forward was the correct one - decidedly so. I suggest that that is the solution we offer to the Yugo-Slavian police when they arrive.' (Christie 197) This quote shows the conversation between Dr. Constantine and Detective Poirot, in which Constantine is agreeing that justice has indeed been served, yet everyone is innocent since they all had alibi’s. Through everyone's lies and deceit, the passengers were able to put an end to a morbid man and carry on with the outcome they wanted. This is important because with Ratchett's death, they were able to avenge Daisy and begin to heal. However, Detective Poirot was an intelligent detective and was able to see through all the lies, “Poirot comes to realize that he has been an audience of one for a careful series of performances.” … “than seeing how their enactment of roles implicates them in carceral circumstances that are sometimes apprehended as “criminal” sometimes not.” (SOURCE). Poirot realized that during his questioning, every single passenger lied to him about where they were and who they were. He easily concludes that every passenger murdered Ratchett.
Another way lies and deceit plays a key role in this novel is through the characters. Poirot discovers that they all murdered Ratchett by each character stabbing Ratchett once. This is when Arbuthnot, another passenger aboard, brings up the 12 people on the jury, “Say what you like, trial by jury is a sound system”(Christie 86). In this quote, Poirot and Arbuthnot discuss whether a trial by jury is fair. Arbuthnot expresses his clear support for the system and shows zero remorse when all the passengers are told that Ratchett was murdered. In this quote, Arbuthnot was not referring to the law, he is referring to the 12 people who killed Ratchett and how all of them became the jurors of Ratchett’s crimes. With all 12 people deceiving Detective Poirot, they essentially created their courtroom to carry out the ruling. Christie wanted to emphasize the jury analogy with these characters, “The pretense, disguise, play-acting, and outward show that are essential to the mystery genre are given a special intensity in Christie’s work by her constant emphasis on and reference to the “theatricality” of her characters’ actions.” (Agatha Christie: Modern and Modernist) (SOURCE). This quote relates to lies and deceit because it states how Christie uses disguises and stereotypical characters to deceive the reader from the big performance that they are about to witness.
With the number of lies the passengers told the detective, it started to raise suspicion on his part. Poirot wondered how every single passenger could have such a sound alibi this easily. M. Bouc, a friend of Detective Poirot, also began to ponder the well constructed alibi’s of the passengers. This thought began to ponder in M. Bouc’s head, a friend of Poirot's. A conversation then sparked between the detective and Bouc, “Well, you know, I had the preposterous idea that it might be the truth.”(Christie 129). In this quote, detective Poirot is conversing with Bouc about Count Andrenyi's confession of his wife's innocence in Ratchett's murder. Bouc believes that the count gave his word only to protect Countess Andrenyi, but Poirot believes the count is telling the truth. In Christie’s novels, she was able to create a realistic scenario in which murder and justice are an important factor. In Murder on the Orient Express, Christie showcased each character's past and the darkness that came along with it. A similar way Christie used a character's past to play a role in the overall murders of one of her novels was through the novel And Then There Were None, “By contrast, the novel's concerns with gender norms and transgressions could never be excised from the text.” (Gender and Moral Immaturity in Agatha Christie's 'And Then There Were None'). Within And Then There Were None, the murder mystery, the characters lie about their dark pasts, so that none of the other characters think that they are the killer. This is very similar to how the passengers aboard the train on the Orient Express try and cover up their past when Detective Poirot is questioning them. Deceit is carried out not just in the murder on the Orient Express, but also in And Then There Were None and others. Lies and deceit gave the passengers, who were the victims of Ratchett’s wrongdoing, the ability to have justice for Daisy Armstrong. This led them to carry out what they believed was judgment for Ratchett’s sins.
Overall, In Murder on the Orient Express, Christie was able to show the unfairness in Ratchett’s freedom, after killing an innocent young girl, through deceiving the detective with a number of witnesses who corrobarated their alibi’s and created a version of murder that conflicted with the common law. Christie also showed how revenge can sometimes be justified through certain circumstances. The morality behind the justification was also questioned in this novel and whether or not Ratchett’s murder was the proper judgment for the crimes he committed. Morality, revenge, and deceitfulness, gave the ability to serve justice upon Ratchett, as well as, be given no punishment for committing the muder of Ratchett. The passengers aboard the Orient Express became the executioners and the jurors of Ratchett’s trial and ultimately carried out the death penalty as the solution for Ratchett’s sins.