Murder on the Orient Express
Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics
Before she is revealed as Linda Arden, what behavior or descriptions might indicate Mrs. Hubbard is an actress?
There are several moments in the text that suggest Mrs. Hubbard may be an actress: she is constantly described in dramatic terms, she makes entrances and exits in all of her "scenes" and is finally caught in a grand lie. Mrs. Hubbard is always described in terms that are typically reserved for actors on the stage. In her speech and physical movements she is always dramatic. When Mrs. Hubbard is first interviewed by Poirot she is said to give "dramatic emphasis to her words" and when she tells her story about the disappearance of the mysterious man in her compartment, "to Mrs. Hubbard...a dramatic climax rather than and anticlimax." Everything Mrs. Hubbard does or says is evaluated as if they were an actor's lines in a play. Mrs. Hubbard always makes specific entrances and exits in all of her scenes. In her first interview, she bursts into see Poirot, breathless and excited and leaves with confidence flair as if she had just completed a wonderful performance, "Mrs. Hubbard sailed out triumphantly." Possibly the biggest indication that Mrs. Hubbard is an actress is her lie about the handbag. Mrs. Hubbard tells Poirot that she had to have Greta Ohlsson check to see if the communicating door between she and Ratchett was properly locked. Poirot discovers that she was obviously lying because the bolt of the lock, a metal protrusion from the door itself, was a foot above the door handle, and Mrs. Hubbard could see it just fine from her bed. This moment reveals that Mrs. Hubbard is hiding something substantial—her true identity.
Name two comedic characters in Murder on the Orient Express. How are they comedic and how do they help propel the plot?
M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine are comedic characters in the novel. Their constant bewilderment, by comparison to Poirot's shrewdness, makes them comical. They help propel the plot because they bring the reader closer to Poirot. The reader knows she is not smart as Poirot, but certainly is not as dumb as Dr. Constantine and M. Bouc. Thus, the reader naturally sides with Poirot and her attention is kept throughout the book—she does not get too frustrated with the case because there are two characters who are eternally more frustrated than she is with the situation. The clearest example of M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine's stupefaction is in Chapter 3, Part three when both of these men sit and think out the case with Poirot. In this section, the narration consciously changes to the first person and the reader knows exactly what the men are thinking from their perspective. M. Bouc attempts to think about the case, but gets very confused and his mind wanders into thoughts about unapproachable English and when the train will get out of the snow bank. Dr. Constantine thinks about how odd Poirot is, the impossibility of the case and then meanders into thoughts about a woman named Zia that he apparently had an affair with. M. Bouc and Dr. Constantine are not especially smart characters, and they cannot even concentrate for a few moments on the case. For the readers benefit, they exist as comic characters that have the least insight on the case.
How are working-class people portrayed in the novel? What differences do you see between working class peoples and non-working-class individuals?
With the exception of Mary Debenham, working-class men and women are generally weaker than the aristocratic characters in Murder on the Orient Express. Under Poirot's scrutiny and the pressure of the situation, most all of them eventually break into tears, most notably Greta Ohlsson who is an emotional mess throughout much of the novel. Again, with the exception of Mary Debenham, there are no bad or evil servants—all of them are sweet and kind and caring, devoted to the Armstrong family.
Greta Van Ohlsson, for one, epitomizes the weak servant. Greta is the dutiful servant of Mrs. Hubbard and apparently the last person to see Ratchett alive. When interviewed, Greta is fairly calm and put together, but from the moment Poirot mentions Daisy Armstrong, she can hardly contain her tears.
As mentioned earlier, Mary Debenham is the only working-class character that seems as strong as the aristocratic passengers. However, by the end of the novel, she too breaks down in tears. When Poirot questions Mary for the second time and reveals her true identity, she crumbles under the pressure. Mary is also finally a weak servant character.
Suggested Essay Topics
What set of morals are endorsed by the book?
What is the significance of law and the jury system in the novel?
How does Murder on the Orient Express differ from other murder mysteries? What format rules does it break? Why is it unique?
Characterize the detective figure as suggested by Murder on The Orient Express. Is Poirot's character morally superior to the other characters in the text?
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!