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Rethinking Agatha Christie

By Sudie Hofmann

In August 2004 I received a copy of the 2004 edition of And Then There Were None from Samuel French Inc. A letter accompanying the play detailed the changes, which likely came about due to activism and public pressure. The play is now officially licensed as And Then There Were None and the Act III reference to a "nigger in the woodpile" has been changed to "guilty party." The fictitious Indian Island has been changed to Soldier Island. The opening paragraph of the play states that, "a cluster of statuettes—ten little soldier boys—sits on the mantelpiece of a weird country house on an island off the coast of Devon. A nursery rhyme embossed above them tells how each little boy met his death, until there was none." I immediately contacted Samuel French, Inc. upon receiving the letter and inquired about the reasons for the changes. Their only response was that the "Christie Estate chooses to make these changes at this time." Nonethe-less, after nearly seven decades, the play no longer uses images of people of color as a "creative" staging approach.

A review of the 2004 book version of Ten Little Indians, now published by St. Martin's Griffin as And Then There Were None, reveals that editorial revision is still needed. Page 57 includes the statement "natives don't mind dying." Anti-Semitism is also expressed on pages 5, 6, and 124, when a Mr. Morris is referred to as "little Jew" and "Jewboy" with "thick Semitic lips."

Schools might attempt to produce the play under the former title, blow off the dust from the "Indian" statuettes stored in a school closet, and use the original nursery rhyme. It would not be difficult to anticipate this happening, given the considerable resistance to changing American Indian school mascots and nicknames in local communities. But this would violate agreements with Samuel French Inc.

Helping Schools Understand the Changes

Given the enormous popularity of And Then There Were None in U.S. high schools and universities, it is likely that schools will need effective ways to educate students about the reasons for the changes that have been made in the play. Below are some possible discussion points for generating critical thinking about the controversies surrounding this play.