Table of Contents
- Dr. Armstrong in And Then There Were None
- Dr. Armstrong: Analysis
- Dr. Armstrong: Quotes
- Lesson Summary
Please note: this lesson includes references to suicide. If you need assistance in this area, the following resource is available: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
When it comes to mystery writing, Agatha Christie is often considered the greatest of all time. She published 66 detective novels and 14 collections of short stories, according to agathachristie.com. She also wrote plays, including The Mousetrap, which holds the record for the world's longest-running stage production. In total, Christie has sold over a billion copies of her books in the English language, as well as another billion in translation. As noted by Encyclopedia Britannica, her works are "reportedly outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible."
In many ways, Christie's And Then There Were None has a special place in her list of achievements. First published in 1939, it is the best-selling crime novel ever written (again, according to agathachristie.com). It has ten main characters, all of whom are stranded on a desolate island off the coast of England. The only thing that connects these characters is a mysterious invitation from an unknown host and the eventual realization that each person has a shady past.
Thomas and Ethel Rogers are a butler and housekeeper who allowed a previous employer of theirs to die by neglect. Vera Claythorne was a governess who caused a young boy in her care to drown. General John Macarthur purposely placed a soldier in a fatal position on the front lines because the soldier was having an affair with the general's wife. William Blore was a police detective who brought false evidence against an innocent man who later died in prison. Lawrence Wargrave used his position as judge to influence a jury, thereby leading to the man's conviction and execution. Emily Brent once dismissed a young maid in her household for getting pregnant, which had the awful result of causing the teenage girl's suicide. Philip Lombard is an adventurer and soldier for hire who allowed 21 members of an East African tribe to starve to death so that he could survive. Anthony Marston is a reckless driver who killed two kids while speeding and showed no remorse afterward. Finally, Edward Armstrong is a medical doctor who operated on a woman while drunk, thus botching the surgery and killing her.
Dr. Armstrong fits well within this group because, like the others, he committed an immoral act that caused another person to die. His crime has something in common with all of the others as well: it is horrific but not easily punishable by law. This means that Dr. Armstrong and the other nine perpetrators were able to avoid detection and escape justice, but only until they find themselves trapped on the island with a murderer on the loose.
In the book, the first five victims are Marston, Macarthur, Brent, and Mr. and Mrs. Rogers. Justice Wargrave appears to die next, but it is later revealed that he is the real killer who faked his death to fool the others. Wargrave talks Dr. Armstrong into falsely confirming his death so that Wargrave can supposedly investigate the murders without being noticed. Of course, Dr. Armstrong has been tricked into being an accomplice. He meets with Wargrave later than night and is pushed into the sea and drowned. Wargrave then bludgeons Blore with a marble clock and watches from the house while Claythorne frantically shoots Lombard and unfortunately decides to take her own life afterward. Finally, Wargrave shoots himself, using an elastic cord to fling the gun away after he dies. When the police finally arrive, they are understandably confused and unable to solve the murders. Eventually, a message in a bottle is picked up by a fishing vessel. Written by Wargrave, the message lays out all of the facts of the case. Wargrave gives his motive as well: he wishes to bring the other nine people to justice. He is also proud of his ability to devise one of the most elaborate and sophisticated murder mysteries of all time.
Early in the story, Dr. Armstrong is described as a highly successful physician. He works on Harley Street, which is a place in London where only the fanciest doctors practice. He is skillful in his craft, and he has gained a solid reputation with his wealthy and influential patients. Armstrong is also industrious and hard working, but he suffers on occasion from anxiety and fatigue. He views this trip to the island as a kind of restful vacation mixed with a bit of work.
Later in the book, as the stress mounts up for all of the characters, Armstrong in particular seems the most agitated. Perhaps that is because his knowledge is in high demand. Every time someone falls ill or dies, he has to give his expert medical advice. These close interactions with the victims also lead to suspicions that he is the murderer, which tries his nerves as well.
Dr. Armstrong's invitation to the island is vague, but it appears that he is asked to be there in a professional capacity. The supposed owner of the island mentions a sick wife and pays Armstrong a large sum of money to discreetly diagnose and care for her. Of course, this invitation is fake and misleading. Like the rest of the characters in And Then There Were None, Dr. Armstrong has a dark personal history. It is therefore the intention of the mysterious host to punish the doctor for his previous indiscretions.
At the beginning of the book, the reader gets a hazy idea of what Dr. Armstrong has done. While he is traveling to the island, he reflects on his past drinking problem and remembers a disastrous medical case from about 15 years prior. Later, when all of the guests are accused of their crimes by a gramophone recording in the next room, Armstrong is charged with causing the death of Louisa Mary Clees. Eventually, the reader learns by Armstrong's own admission that he was drunk during Louisa's operation. It was an easy surgical procedure, but because the doctor was severely inebriated, his patient died on the table. At one point in the story, Armstrong dreams that he is back in the hospital. He is sweating, and his hands are clammy. He notices the sharp cutting edge of the scalpel. He becomes obsessed with the idea of murder and even imagines another of the island's guests on the operating table. This scene, in particular, highlights his growing anxiety. It also shows the psychological torment that the island's victims have to endure before they are killed off.
On top of this mental strain, Armstrong has to contend with the other guests and their accusations that he is the murderer. This happens early, when Mrs. Rogers hears the phonograph recording and loses consciousness. Armstrong gives her a brandy to revive her, and he later administers a sedative to help her sleep. The others find this highly suspicious, especially considering that Mrs. Rogers is found dead the next day. The reader is perhaps meant to follow this line of logic. Knowing that Armstrong has already taken a life in the course of his work, it is easy to believe that he would do it again.
Dr. Armstrong is one of the last five surviving guests, which only increases the chance that he is the murderer. It is at this point that Armstrong enters into a secret alliance with Wargrave. He agrees to help the judge fake his own death, believing that this will allow Wargrave to work behind the scenes and discover the murderer. Given that Wargrave is actually the killer, this does not work well for Armstrong. In And Then There Were None, Armstrong's death is actually caused by Wargrave himself. When the two men meet later that night, Wargrave tricks the doctor into looking over the cliff and then pushes him over.
Of course, in the true Agatha Christie fashion, the reader is not aware of this development until the very end, when the message in a bottle is discovered. Wargrave uses the message to reveal everything. He admits to faking his death so he could carry out the rest of the murders with ease. He partners with Armstrong because he knows the doctor would be the only one to closely examine his supposedly dead body, thus convincing the others that he is just another victim and not the true killer. Aside from this convenience, Wargrave says he chose Armstrong because he was a "gullible sort of man." He would never believe that a highly respected judge could be responsible for such horrendous crimes.
There are several quotations throughout the book that reveal Dr. Armstrong's true character. They also serve to keep the story going, with little bits of additional information offered to the reader to help unravel the mystery.
Here, Dr. Armstrong is deep in thought as he travels to the island at the book's beginning. He is reflecting on the death of his patient, but he is not even honest with himself that he caused her death. When confronted with the crime later, he is forced to deal with it, which causes his psychological decline.
In this quotation, Dr. Armstrong is defending himself to the other guests at the island. The phonograph recording has just announced his crime, and he is justifying the death of his patient. Before offering these words, he is described as being "very much master of himself." As the reader soon discovers, that is all an act.
This dialogue occurs only in Armstrong's head, moments after he defends himself and justifies the patient's death in the earlier quotation. Here, readers can see the decline in his mental state. Armstrong is forced to admit, if only to himself, that he killed someone on the operating table. His character, like all of the other characters, will lose control as the murders continue. This is part of the justice that the judge is doling out. He intends for the worst offenders to die last, so they can suffer the most.
This admission from Armstrong foreshadows his partnership with Wargrave later. He is fending off accusations from the others that he is the murderer by referencing his high professional standing. This line of thinking will allow him to be tricked by Wargrave. He cannot see that a well-respected figure such as the judge is capable of committing terrible crimes.
In Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, Dr. Armstrong is one of ten guests on a remote island who has a shady past. About 15 years prior, Armstrong had operated on Louisa Mary Clees while drunk, killing her in the process. He goes to the island because of an invitation to examine a patient, for which he is paid handsomely. When Mrs. Rogers dies on the island, Armstrong is suspected of killing her because he had close contact and gave her a sedative before she fell asleep. He is not the killer, but he unwittingly partners with the real murderer, Justice Wargrave, helping him fake his own death. Armstrong cannot believe that a respected professional like Wargrave is capable of being the murderer. He is eventually proven wrong. He meets Wargrave late at night and is pushed off a cliff. Thus, Wargrave administers his own brand of justice and continues to torment the other victims before their own deaths.
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Dr. Armstrong is initially invited to the island to care for a patient, but he finds himself in the middle of a murder mystery with the other guests. Armstrong gives a sedative to Mrs. Rogers and is later considered a prime suspect when she dies in her sleep. As the murders continue, Armstrong agrees to help Wargrave fake his death, under the assumption that Wargrave wants to secretly investigate the crimes. This is part of Wargrave's plan and only leads to more murders on the island.
Dr. Armstrong falls victim to the most elaborate part of Justice Wargrave's plan. Wargrave fakes a bullet wound to the head, having earlier talked Armstrong into falsely confirming his death. This convinces the others, given that Armstrong is a medical doctor. Wargrave then meets with Armstrong outside of the house that night, ultimately killing him by pushing him off a cliff.
Dr. Armstrong is a busy and highly successful medical doctor with a thriving practice in London. All of his work has caused him fatigue and anxiety, perhaps made worse by the memory of getting drunk and killing a woman on the operating table 15 years earlier. Armstrong is also portrayed as someone who naively respects people in high professional standings, which only clouds his judgment and allows him to be killed by Justice Wargrave.
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