Narration and Point of View
The narration of the story is straightforward. It is told chronologically and easily moves in sequence from one event to the next. It does not rely on flashbacks or any other literary devices to add necessary details to the story or to flesh out the characters.
The story is told from a third-person point of view. This means that readers see and hear only what one character sees and hears, and that readers are also privy to that character’s thoughts, in this case Mr. Mummery. Because the point of view is so strongly with Mr. Mummery, most readers will only think what he thinks. Although an inquisitive reader may question whether Mrs. Sutton is the poisoner— where then is the mystery?—Mr. Mummery’s absolute trust in his wife is so complete that many will not even question Ethel’s role. Thus, the point of view works extremely well with the story, for it hinges on the reader’s—and Mr. Mummery’s— utter surprise at the discovery of Ethel’s treachery.
Irony is the use of words to express something other than or, especially, the opposite of the literal meaning. The story contains many instances of irony, which the reader may only fully appreciate after the ending is revealed. For instance, the year before, Ethel and Welbeck starred in a Drama Society production of a play called Romance. In another example of irony, after Mr. Mummery comes to suspect Mrs. Sutton, he makes it a habit to waken early in the morning and go ”prowling about the kitchen,” which ”made Ethel nervous, but Mrs. Sutton offered no remark.” Despite their reactions, Mr. Mummery believes that Mrs. Sutton is watching “tolerantly,” even with some “amusement.” Even Ethel’s seemingly innocent statement, “Did Mrs. Sutton leave something hot for you? She said she would,” takes on ironic significance: she is directing him to the cocoa that has been laced with an extremely heavy does of arsenic.
Mr. Mummery’s interpretation of his wife’s reaction to talk of the Andrews’ murders is another example of irony. He describes her as ”quite white and tremulous,” which he ascribes to the violence of the topic, when really her loss of composure is caused by her own guilt in poisoning her husband. Later that afternoon, she becomes almost hysterical when Mr. Mummery brings up the topic again.
The final instance of irony in the story occurs when Mr. Mummery arrives home after learning conclusively that his cocoa has been poisoned with arsenic. He sees a car by his house and assumes that it belongs to a doctor. ”It had happened already…. Fool, murderer that he was to have left things so late.” The irony here stems from the fact that Mr. Mummery calls himself a murderer, believing that his handling of the poisoning has led to the death of his wife, while in reality his wife is attempting to murder him.
The surprise ending is crucial to the story. It comes at the extreme end of the story, with the story turning drastically and quickly. Mr. Mummery’s suspicions transfer to his wife in one brief, open-ended sentence: “He glanced around at his wife, and in her eyes he saw something that he had never seen before. . .” All the clues point to Mrs. Sutton as the poisoner, so a reader, in the act of reading, may very well question where the actual mystery is. The clues, observed through Mr. Mummery, all point to Mrs. Sutton as the guilty party, but they all could just as accurately point to Ethel. Because the plot could just as easily lead in one direction as the other, the ending of the story is a surprise and not a trick ending.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Dorothy L. Sayers, Published by Gale Group, 2001.