Nick Buckley is a notably unique and unpredictable character in the novel, Peril at End House by Agatha Christie. She is an extremely skilled liar, which allows her to manipulate a genius detective. She is desperate for money, which causes her to make poor decisions. She has an odd relationship with, and perhaps a misunderstanding, of death. Nick’s manipulation and killing demonstrate the tragic effect of desperation and death on a young and ambitious woman; a classic story of the victim becoming the criminal.
Miss Buckley is a skilled manipulator. She fabricates near-death experiences that even a detective believes. Nick lies about everything, from the incidents, to her life being at risk. The only person who sees through her lies is her best friend, Freddie Rice. “[Nick] is the most heaven-sent little liar that ever existed, you know. Amazing—it’s quite a gift.” (105). Although she ultimately fails, Nick’s manipulations almost allow her to get what she so desperately wants, Michael Seton’s fortune.
Nick Buckley is willing to murder and risk her own life to become rich. This demonstrates an absolute desperation for money. Nick murders her cousin, Maggie Buckley as she sees it as a necessary step to inherit Michael Seton’s fortune. Additionally, she poisons herself with cocaine to make her plan even more convincing.
“‘Then comes the sudden and unexpected death of Sir Matthew Seton, and hard upon that the rumours of Michael Seton’s being missing. And straightaway an outrageous plan comes into our young lady’s head. Seton does not know that her name is Magdala also. He only knows her as Nick. His will is clearly quite informal—a mere mention of a name. But in the eyes of the world Seton is her friend! It is with her that his name has been coupled. If she were to claim to be engaged to him, no one would be surprised. But to do that successfully Maggie must be out of the way.’” (513-514).
Unfortunately, Miss Buckley will do anything, including murder, to resolve this hunger for money.
Nick has a very odd relationship with death, which foreshadows her insensitivity to murdering Maggie Buckley. She shows no emotion when briefly mentions the tragic death of her brother when she was sixteen, which was only three years ago. As well, her mother, Amy Vyse’s death when she was a baby, her father’s death from pneumonia, and finally, her grandfather’s death, which occurred but six years ago. Nick appears not to be affected from these deaths, although this is soon revealed not to be the case.
“‘First my grandfather died—just six years ago, and then my brother. That just about put the lid on the financial position. […] Gerald was killed in a motor accident just three years ago and the place [End House] came to me.’” (131-132).
Nick has experienced great loss in her lifetime and, although unfortunate, her reaction to this, is numbness to death. This numbness gives her the emotional freedom, as she will experience no guilt, to kill.
Nick Buckley is ultimately exposed as the true criminal in this heartbreaking story. Although, she most likely did not have the opportunity to resolve her decisions with herself before her death, at least her crimes are explained. Miss Buckley became a twisted character due to the many deaths of close family members. She causes the death of Maggie Buckley and, ultimately, of herself. Nick is a tragic story; a young woman who was truly hurt by the deaths of her family members. Unfortunately, she never had the opportunity to recover from her losses, which is why I believe that, although it may not appear so, Nick Buckley is one of the victims of this story. She is a victim of loss.
Mary Anne Bell is the most significant female character in The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This makes her particularly memorable, and of interest to female readers. Her descent into madness represents the fragility and superficial nature of relationships, civility and how little we may truly know people, even the ones we love deeply. Mary Anne first appears naïve and innocent, but she quickly becomes quite mysterious and does unexpected things. It seems that she was more than ready to disconnect herself from her previous life. Some of the decisions she makes reveal a rather changeable moral compass. This extreme example of how an innocent girl was transformed helps the reader to understand the tragic alteration of so many soldiers in war.
Mary Anne is first presented as a ‘typical’ American teenager, and very out-of-place in the Vietnam camp. Her life before Vietnam was normal; she and Fossie planned to marry, have kids, and die together. Yet things quickly evolve as Mary Anne becomes, initially, mysterious and unpredictable. She does things that Mark Fossie and the others do not understand or expect:
“Shoulders hunched, her blue eyes opaque, she seemed to disappear inside herself. A couple of times Fossie approached her and tried to talk it out, but Mary Anne just stared out at the dark green mountains to the west. The wilderness seemed to draw her in. A haunted look, Rat said—partly terror, partly rapture. It was as if she had come up on the edge of something, as if she were caught in that no-man’s-land between Cleveland Heights and deep jungle. Seventeen years old. Just a child, blond and innocent, but then weren’t they all?” (100).
She seems drawn to the Greenies, who are themselves on the fringe of the soldiers in the camp. Rat’s telling of the story is almost like a legend, although he insists it is true. But Mary Anne’s story is so unbelievable that it seems like a myth, especially her eventual disappearance into the jungle. In the end, we learn from the author that, in fact, many of his stories are exaggerations of the truth. However, these exaggerations are simply to help the reader experience the feelings of the characters as the characters themselves experienced them.
Moreover, Mary Anne’s rapid transformation indicates that she was desperate for change. She was sucked into an unfathomable love for the country and for the war.
“You just don’t know,” she said. “You hide in this little fortress, behind wire and sandbags, and you don’t know… Sometimes I want to eat this place. The whole country—the dirt, the death—I just want to swallow it and have it there inside me. That’s how I feel. It’s like this appetite. I get scared sometimes—lots of times—but it’s not bad. You know? I feel close to myself. When I’m out at night, I feel close to my own body, I can feel my blood moving, my skin and my fingernails, everything, it’s like I’m full of electricity and I’m glowing in the dark—I’m on fire almost—I’m burning away into nothing—but it doesn’t matter because I know exactly who I am. You can’t feel like that anywhere else.” (106).
Mary Anne was clearly dissatisfied with her previous life; she abandoned it so quickly. She seems to have had a hidden desire for adventure, authenticity, danger, and meaning in life that she may not have been aware of back in the United States.
Finally, Mary Anne has an inconsistent sense of self and an indecisive moral compass. This is demonstrated by how she became so rapidly primal. Mary Anne didn’t seem to experience much trauma and instead embraced her experiences in Vietnam.
“In times of action her face took on a sudden new composure, almost serene, the fuzzy blue eyes narrowing into a tight, intelligent focus. Mark Fossie would grin at this. He was proud, yes, but also amazed. A different person, it seemed, and he wasn’t sure what to make of it.” (93-94).
In weeks, she was completely dehumanized by the horrors of war. Wearing a necklace of human tongues, “the tips curled upward as if caught in a final shrill syllable” (106), around her throat, the complete loss of emotion in her eyes; the Mary Anne Bell Mark Fossie once knew was completely gone. Although tragic, Mary Anne’s story is an ‘example’ of the effects of war on soldiers or civilians.
The Things They Carried is a collection of connected stories about the Vietnam war, but it is an allegory for any war. Sweetheart of The Song Tra Bong is a chapter that explores the enormous toll that war takes on innocent young people exposed to sustained violence; this is true for soldiers obviously, but the effect of living with war is felt by all those involved. Mary Anne’s story may or may not be true, but her experience and her transformation represent a universal theme of the human tragedy of war.