Hercule Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the character, Hercule Poirot, who is the detective and protagonist in Agatha Christie's murder mystery, ''Murder on the Orient Express.''

Background

John Buchan, the Scottish writer known for creating 39 Steps, said, 'Every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective.' If that is true, then Hercule Poirot, the protagonist and narrator of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, is the detective that every man hopes to be. While he makes his living solving high-profile cases all over the world, he does not expect to be in the middle of a murder mystery when he boards the Orient Express, an international train. When Ratchett, a passenger that Poirot senses is pure evil is stabbed 12 times, Poirot is asked to solve the case. Let's discuss Poirot's character in this novel.

The Holmesian Detective

While great detectives from Nancy Drew to Dexter continue to entertain the masses, the great detective Sherlock Holmes, who was first created in 1887 by Arthur Conan Doyle for a collection of magazine stories that were later published as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, continues to be the gold standard. Soon after the release of the Sherlock Holmes series, the Golden Age of Detective Fiction emerged.

During the 1920s and 1930s, authors, such as Agatha Christie, created stories which were generally set in England and contained murders that were solved through the deductive reasoning skills of a Holmesian Detective. A Holmesian detective is a fictional character whose methods of investigation are similar to those of Sherlock Holmes. Agatha Christie developed both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, who are stereotypical detectives that reappear in her stories.

Just as Sherlock had Watson as a sidekick, Poirot has both Monsieur Bouc, who at one time worked with Poirot at the Belgian police department but now works for the train line, and Dr. Constantine, the Greek doctor that examines Ratchett's body. While the sidekick offers support and assistance, he is unable to use deductive reasoning to the extent that the brilliant detective is capable of using it. The arrogant detective never lets his sidekick(s) forget it, either. Poirot disapproves of the murder, commenting that 'it seems to have been done very amateurishly' and that 'this cannot be a difficult case' for him to solve to kill time until he arrives at the next stop.

Interaction with Other Characters

While Poirot recognizes the importance of interviewing every character, he knows that the same approach will not work with all of the passengers. He carefully crafts the approach that will work best based on the personalities of those he interviews, which indicates both intelligence and humanity.

Poirot tells Dr. Constantine, '… I am not one to rely upon the expert procedure. It is the psychology I seek, not the fingerprint or the cigarette ash.' His psychology is evident in the difference between the way Greta Ohlsson, the sensitive Swedish nurse, is interviewed as compared to the way Mary Debenham, the strong-willed governess is treated during her interrogation.

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