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And Then There Were None Poem Analysis

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ian Matthews

Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing

The poem, 'Ten Little Soldiers,' or one of its variations, is the epigraph for Agatha Christie's 'And Then There Were None.' Let's take a look at the poem and at how its meaning guides this groundbreaking mystery novel.

And Then There Were None

The poem, 'Ten Little Soldiers,' and Agatha Christie's mystery novel, And Then There Were None, have a kind of messy history to them. An early version of the poem, as well as the title of the book, used a racial slur. When the book was released in England in early 1939, it originally featured the N-word. That title was changed to Ten Little Indians in 1940 when the book was released in the United States.

The title of the rhyme was also changed to 'Ten Little Indians,' or 'Ten Little Soldiers' in other versions. An island off the coast of England, the setting of And Then There Were None, became Indian Island, and then later, Soldier Island. The set of ten figurines that play a significant role in the book were also changed from Indians to soldiers.

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  • 0:02 And Then There Were None
  • 0:52 The Poem
  • 1:58 Poem and Plot Relationship
  • 3:12 The Poem as an Epigraph
  • 3:56 Lesson Summary
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The Poem

Ten little soldier boys went out to dine; One choked his little self and then there were Nine.

Nine little soldier boys sat up very late; One overslept himself and then there were Eight.

Eight little soldier boys traveling in Devon; One said he'd stay there and then there were Seven.

Seven little soldier boys chopping up sticks; One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.

Six little soldier boys playing with a hive; A bumblebee stung one and then there were Five.

Five little soldier boys going in for law; One got into chancery and then there were Four.

Four little soldier boys going out to sea; A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.

Three little soldier boys walking in the Zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.

Two little soldier boys sitting in the sun; One got frizzled up and then there was One.

One little soldier boy left all alone; He went and hanged himself

And then there were None.

Poem and Plot Relationship

The killer in the novel And Then There Were None is Judge Wargrave and he uses the poem to give clues to his identity, as well as to determine how each person on the island dies. Anthony Marston dies choking. Mrs. Rogers is poisoned and found the next morning, thus 'oversleeping' like the second soldier. General Macarthur is beaten when he goes outside 'to stay.' Mr. Rogers dies while chopping wood. Miss Brent is injected with poison, like a bee sting. Judge Wargrave is 'shot' in his judge's clothing, like the soldier that studies law. Dr. Armstrong drowns, swallowed by a 'red herring.' William Blore's head is crushed by a bear statue, like the soldier that hugs a bear. Philip Lombard goes crazy in the sun and gets shot by Vera Claythorne, or 'frizzled up,' in a manner of speaking. Vera Claythorne hangs herself.

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