Appearances and Reality
The difference between appearances and reality is an important theme in “Suspicion.” Mr. Mummery and his wife both have not been feeling well lately. He has been suffering from stomach problems, and she is often tired and sluggish. When Mr. Mummery finds certain suspicious clues, he begins to wonder if their new cook is poisoning them. He finds a can of weed-killer with arsenic in the garage. It is the exact same brand that another cook, Mrs. Andrews, used to poison a family, and it has been opened though he knows he left it capped. He realizes that every article and picture referring to the Andrews poisoning case has been cut out of the newspaper. In addition to the circumstantial evidence against the Mummerys’ new cook, Mrs. Sutton, the sequence of events seems to suggest her guilt. The police have been looking for Mrs. Andrews for about a month, and that is how long Mrs. Sutton has been with the Mummerys. Mrs. Sutton also appears to be acting suspicious and guilty.
Mr. Mummery is on the verge of breaking the frightening news to his wife when Mrs. Sutton announces that Mrs. Andrews has been captured. Mr. Mummery wonders who could have put arsenic in the cocoa. Despite the evidence, which now clearly points to his wife, Mr. Mummery does not suspect her until he turns and sees in Ethel’s eyes “something that he had never seen before.” This sentence underscores the truth that there is a difference between what something looks like and what it really is.
The trick ending also immediately reveals that Ethel Mummery has been having an affair with Welbeck. They have been concealing their affair under the guise of friendship, which is yet another example of the confusion, deliberate or otherwise, of appearances and reality.
Deception and Betrayal
By the end of the story, Mr. Mummery is on the brink of the realization that he has been deceived and betrayed. He dearly loves his wife. All this time, however, she has been carrying on an affair with Welbeck. The clues to her affair were available to Mr. Mummery, but he never noticed them. For instance, when the Welbecks come to visit he sees ”a relieved glance pass between Ethel and young Welbeck.” He ascribes this glance to their mutual understanding of his contrivance to get Mrs. Welbeck to stop talking about the murders in front of Ethel. But in truth, Ethel and Welbeck are pleased because he is going outside with Mrs. Welbeck and leaving them alone. Similarly, when he returns from the garden with Mrs. Welbeck, he finds his wife and young Welbeck holding hands, but he simply makes the assumption that “their approach to the house had evidently been from the sitting-room window” and that Welbeck and his wife are “saying goodbye.” More importantly, Ethel has been deceiving her husband in her plot to kill him, presumably to free herself to be with Welbeck.
Mrs. Andrews’ crime, which has no actual relation to the events at the Mummery household, nevertheless is very important. The story suggests that reading about the crime may have given Ethel an idea of how she might kill her husband, while throwing suspicion on another party, Mrs. Sutton. There is a strong indication that the poisoning began only with the arrival of Mrs. Sutton, which coincided with the news about the Andrews case.
Mr. Mummery’s reaction to the crime is also telling. He gets a “thrill” from reading about the Andrews murders, and he worries excessively about discussion of the crimes upsetting his wife. Yet when he suspects that Mrs. Andrews may be in their home masquerading as Mrs. Sutton, he takes no direct action, even when he fears Mrs. Sutton may murder Ethel. He chooses instead to watch carefully how the food is handled, all the while acknowledging that there was little use “supervising breakfast, when he had to be out of the house every day between half-past nine and six.” Even though he admits he is “chary of investigating” his suspicions, he does so, but not very thoroughly. Instead of reporting his suspicions to the police, he ”must cope with this monstrous suspicion on his own.. .. And he must be sure of his ground. To dismiss the only decent cook they ever had out of sheer unfounded panic would be wanton cruelty.”
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.