He thought: Peaceful sound. Peaceful place…. He thought: Best of an island is once you get there—you can’t go any farther … you’ve come to the end of things…. He knew, suddenly, that he didn’t want to leave the island.
Although at the time General Macarthur committed his crime—deliberately sending a subordinate to his death during the Great War—he felt perfectly justified, over the years his action continued to haunt him. He believes that other veterans gossip about his decision and that his neighbors regard him with suspicion—though his guilty conscience may be affecting his perceptions. Now, Macarthur feels near the end of his rope. The guilt exhausts him. He wants to be done with life. Realizing that death lurks on the island, he feels quite ready to accept his punishment.
You all heard. She was accused, together with her husband, of having deliberately murdered her former employer—an old lady…. I think the accusation was true…. She broke down completely and fainted. The shock of having her wickedness brought home to her was too much for her.
Miss Brent explains that Mrs. Rogers’s death overnight must have been caused by the woman’s guilty conscience. Miss Brent, a strongly religious woman, believes that the idea of having sinned would reasonably affect someone in this way, and to a certain extent she could be right. Mrs. Rogers, already a frightened woman, may have been overcome by the public accusation: She did indeed faint. Ironically, however, Miss Brent’s theory only works on people who recognize their guilt. Even though Miss Brent’s own bad behavior was publicly called out in the same recording, she remains unaffected as she does not believe she did anything wrong.
I remember a text that hung in my nursery as a child. ‘Be sure thy sin will find thee out.’ It’s very true, that.
Miss Brent, a strong moralist and very religious woman, grew up believing that sin will always be found out. As a result, she has always lived as an extremely morally upright person—at least according to her own worldview. Even as she agrees with the quote, she fails to realize that her own sin has been found out, because she does not believe herself guilty of any wrongdoing. Despite living her life intending not to sin, she does commit a crime, and as such, she will be punished like the rest of the island’s guests.
Of course, you’re very young… you haven’t got to that yet. But it does come! The blessed relief when you know that you’ve done with it all—that you haven’t got to carry the burden any longer. You’ll feel that too, someday….
General Macarthur’s guilt over his long-ago crime has gradually worn him down. He carried the burden for many years, and he now feels ready to die. Here, he describes his feelings to Vera, who strongly disagrees with such a notion. Vera denies all quilt and feels determined to survive whatever happens on the island. Macarthur’s words foreshadow Vera’s feelings at the end of her ordeal on the island. By then, both her exhaustion and the weight of her guilt drive her, too, to desire the relief of death.
“You can go to the rock, Cyril….” That was what murder was—as easy as that! But afterwards you went on remembering….
After her ordeal of—seemingly—vanquishing the murderer, Vera reflects on how she caused her young charge, Cyril, to die. Unlike in earlier remembrances of the situation, here she clearly calls the event “murder” to herself. As she points out, causing the death was as easy as encouraging a child’s foolhardy plan. The difficulty came in living with her guilty conscience. In fact, while she reflects on the past, she prepares to hang herself, believing that her ex-lover, Hugo, wants her to. His disgust at her action against Cyril started her on the path to understanding her own guilt.