“Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9).

Mark of Cain

‘Five little boys going in for law; One got in Chancery and then there were four.’ In And Then There Were None, the killer, Justice Lawrence Wargrave, has a demented fantasy. He thinks he can resist God while at the same time stand and judge others with impunity. When he is found ostensibly dead, he is wearing a judge’s wig and scarlet robe. However, more important is the “round stained mark from which something trickled” on the middle of his forehead (And Then There Were None 131). This mark is Wargrave’s self-appointed “Brand of Cain” (173). It serves as a confession but also warns the reader that Wargrave’s personal, distorted definition of justice does not coincide with the opinion of his higher power, God. Therefore, he detaches his conscience from Christian morality and enforces his own form of justice.

To briefly summarize, Cain and his brother Abel were the first two sons of Adam and Eve. When God asked them each to make a sacrifice to Him, Abel pleasantly obliged by killing his best lamb. Cain hesitantly gave God grain and fruit. God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s. Jealous of Abel, Cain struck him down and committed the first murder. God asked Cain wandering about if he knew were Abel was, to which Cain replied: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Angry with Cain for his devious act, God cursed him and set him wandering about the earth. Fearful of being murdered himself, Cain appealed to God. In response, God said “whomsoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be upon him sevenfold” and God “set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him”  (Genesis 4:15). God’s branding of Cain is commonly referred to as the Mark of Cain.
And Then There Were NoneThe Mark of Cain, or Curse of Cain, has been widely interpreted in Western Civilization. For instance, some see the curse on Cain’s descendents as justification for ostracizing them. Unfortunately, some sects of Christianity have interpreted Cain’s brand as justification for racial segregation. This rationalization has divided various sects of Christianity, particularly those who see the story of Cain’s branding as a moral example. Others see it as a condemnation and excuse to treat other people as inferiors. In this regard, the Christian paradigm has been invoked as justification for the racial superiority of the Arian race, or the inferiority of the black race even in political realms. Alternatively, others have read the Mark of Cain simply as a warning against the ramifications of evil. Still, others simply see it as mark signifying that he, Cain, cannot cultivate crops. This is the reason that he is nomadic. Needing a believable excuse to heinously kill nine people, Agatha Christie employs the Mark of Cain to provide the philosophical backing to Justice Wargrave’s motive. Christie needed a character that was meticulous, educated, and motivated, but at the same time functional among the guests during the most stressful times. Thus, by employing an ambiguous Christian paradigm, Christie is able to make Wargrave’s interpretation unique and easy to relate to.

Justice Wargrave readily acknowledges the errant nature of his views and embraces this brand as a mark of evil. He acknowledges his insanity and hopes to enforce justice on those whom God has failed to kill. He researches, plans, and manipulates nine people to come to Indian Island, which will be a unique and distinct kind of colony. Even the name Indian Island suggests an inferior place, which is isolated. For the name Indian carries a racially charged term that was viewed as inferior by whites. Not surprisingly, Wargrave recruits only those who are guilty of murder.
Though Wargrave took great pleasure in serving the law, he especially relished the opportunity to condemn guilty criminals to circumstances of little or no hope. However, after a long career, he became frustrated with the law’s inability to convict all guilty people, specifically those people without enough circumstantial evidence in the court of law to be convicted, like the nine guests he recruited. His perspective became warped and he began to take justice into his own hand. Moreover, he maintained that the justice system, but more importantly God, has failed to punish the nine people he selected to come to Indian Island. Consequently, he conceives his complex artistic concoction, hoping to bring his own definition of justice to those who had not been adequately judged by the law.
There is a striking similarity to Cain, who denies human responsibility, or for that matter, a sense of human justice, and Justice Wargrave; for they both actively defy the moral code prescribed to them and become renegades. It is the absence of a Christian conscience and the application of a separate and unique one that ties Wargrave to Cain. Even his name, War-grave, suggests an aggressive and destructive force. By answering “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, Cain is declaring that he feels detached and claims no responsibility for his brother’s demise. In the eyes of Cain, this metaphor translates on a larger scale to all of mankind. His actions alone are his responsibility, not God’s. Thus, Cain does not feel that his actions deserve punishment, for he is his own keeper and punisher. The parallel between Wargrave and Cain is striking; Wargrave is confident of his position and never shows evidence of remorse. He happily executes his personal plan without ever repenting or flinching.


© Copyright Christopher Chanock 2007


“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Genesis 4:9