Murder on the Orient Express is more than just a murder mystery. It is a novel that utilizes a great deal of existing social issues of the era in which it was written and formed a commentary on those issues while giving the reader an intriguing yet approachable narrative. Through this approach, Agatha Christie has given the reader an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of the seasoned private investigator Hercule Poirot. In this world, nothing is at it seems and apparent coincidence belies a hidden truth, a world in which the geographical connections created by passenger railways allowed people of different nationalities and classes to rub elbows. Stereotypes of class and nationalities are both dominant social themes that persist throughout the novel. Social themes of crime, as well as good versus evil of the era also play an important role in the narrative.
Americans, at least the two who freely admitted to being American, are comedic characters in the text. Hardman and Mrs. Hubbard use improper slang, are obnoxious, and think their country is the best, both caricatures of American males and females. The chapter detailing Mrs. Hubbard’s interview is actually named “The Evidence of the American Lady”. Hardman loses his persona at one point. Poirot notes this in the novel as though finally being able to accept him once the good-humored facade is gone. “At the same time his whole personality seemed to undergo a change. He became less of a stage character and more of a real person. The resonant nasal tones of his voice became modified” (136). This portrayal of Americans, while comedic, is a commentary on the generalized view of the United States and its citizens by much of the world. Mrs. Hubbard tells people that Europe needs Western ideals. While Hardman, who constantly speaks in awkward slang tells M. Bouc he would "learn a few go-ahead methods over there...Europe needs waking up. She's half asleep” (45). Poirot agrees that America is a place of progress, but it is clear this progress is not always positive. This was a general feeling of America at the time and, to this day, can still be. At the time, Americans were boastful and often portrayed as the quintessential cowboy. Being loud, obnoxious, and reacting with a sense of superiority, Christie portrayed Hardman well despite the high pitched voice.
Class plays another pivotal role in most of Agatha Christies’ novels, and this book is no exception. However, class not only represents one's financial well being, but also emotional. The servants are written as emotionally weaker characters than the upper and aristocratic passengers are. Several of the servants break into tears by the novel's end. Many of the higher-class characters seem rather unmoved about the situation, as they are either independently wealthy, gainfully employed, or are not required to work. Many seem to find it more of an inconvenience than a tragedy. It is mentioned that the Italian gentleman, Antonio Foscarelli, is the first to reveal the weight of the Armstrong kidnapping and murder (143). Mary Debenham even tells Poirot she does not tell people she was associated with the Armstrongs because she is worried about securing other jobs. While the train car consists of several passengers across nationalities and classes seemingly blending, the sense of separation still exists, as there is the working class and the aristocracy.
In spite of taking place on a train traversing Europe, America plays an important role in the novel. There are differing views of the United States being expressed throughout the novel by the passengers of the Orient Express based largely on stereotypes. The cast of characters traveling aboard the Orient Express is rather wide and varied, as such, most every passenger has firm opinions that they hold of others aboard. Many of these views seem informed not by experience but preconceived...