Study Guide

Murder on the Orient Express Appearances

By Agatha Christie


It was not till they were eating a delicate cream cheese that M. Bouc allowed his attention to wander to matters other than nourishment. He was at the stage of a meal when one becomes philosophic.

"Ah!" he sighed. "If I had but the pen of a Balzac! I would depict this scene." (1.3.3-4)

M. Bouc thinks the scene is a perfect one to be written about. (Agatha Christie obviously agrees.) He expresses his wish that he had the skills famous French writer Honoré de Balzac.

What an egg-shaped head he had. In spite of her preoccupations Mary Debenham smiled. A ridiculous-looking little man. The sort of little man one could never take seriously. (1.1.28)

Mary Debenham immediately underestimates Poirot because of his size and, quite possibly, his silly mustache.

"Rather an odd little comedy that I watch here," said Poirot to himself thoughtfully. (1.1.81)

Poirot immediately senses something theatrical in the conversation between Colonel Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham.

He was a man of between sixty and seventy. From a little distance he had the bland aspect of a philanthropist. His slightly bald head, his domed forehead, the smiling mouth that displayed a very white set of false teeth, all seemed to speak of a benevolent personality. Only the eyes belied this assumption. They were small, deep set and crafty. Not only that. As the man, making some remark to his young companion, glanced across the room, his gaze stopped on Poirot for a moment, and just for that second there was a strange malevolence, and unnatural tensity in the glance. (1.2.38)

Though things are not always what they seem in this novel, one thing is certain: everyone knows Ratchett is evil just by <em>looking </em>at him. Is this message consistent with the rest of Christie's novel?

"If you will forgive me for being personal – I do not like your face, M. Ratchett," he said. (1.3.85)

Though he knows relatively nothing about Ratchett, Poirot relies on his instincts to judge the man's character.

"And most conveniently she leaves her handkerchief behind!" said Poirot. "Exactly as it happens in the books and on the films – and to make things even easier for us it is marked with an initial." (1.7.76)
The placement of the clues is so perfect as to call attention to itself. Note how Poirot compares the clues to books and films in the genre. (Very meta.)

"Say something, then, my friend, I implore you. Show me how the impossible can be possible!"

"It is a good phrase that," said Poirot. "The impossible cannot have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances." (2.13.3-4)

Poirot senses that he must look beyond the surface of things. He's a practical guy, and he refuses to be confounded by how strange things appear to be.

"Nonsense. It's absurd. Colonel Arbuthnot is the last man in the world to be mixed up in a crime – especially a theatrical kind of crime like this." (2.15.165)

Christie gives us hint after hint that the reality we are presented with in the novel is not, in fact, reality. The word "theatrical" is a clue here

"That is all very fine," said M. Bouc. "But what have you to go upon?"

"I told you just now. We have the evidence of the passengers and the evidence of our own eyes."

"Pretty evidence – that of the passengers! It told us just nothing at all."

Poirot shook his head.

"I do not agree, my friend. The evidence of the passengers gave us several points of interest." (3.1.13-17)

While M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine remain puzzled, Poirot has made observations that suggest a simple solution to the mystery.

"I came to the conclusion that the whole business at twenty-three minutes to one was a comedy played for my benefit!" (3.9.50)

Christie's novel again suggests the theatricality of the crime here as Poirot likens the events to a comic play. Just like in a play, all of the people on the train are acting out roles.

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