Pickling the Cucumber

In “The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl” by Agatha Christie, the word cucumber is used to foreshadow the occurrence of Anthony Eastwood getting into a “pickle” or a difficult situation.


In this story, the cucumber is used as opposed to any other vegetable because it can be soaked in vinegar and turned into a pickle which makes it a good candidate to represent the difficult situations Anthony Eastwood gets himself into. Anthony was not in distress when he first typed “cucumber”, or even when he said it to the old lady in the shop. The trouble happened when he acted upon the word and marched up the stairs the old woman pointed out after the “cucumber” pass code was said, right into the vinegar, and got himself in a pickle. He walked straight into the trap set by the girl at the top of the stairs as he was “never one to miss opportunities, [and] echoed her fervently” (p.191). It seemed that his curiosity was the vinegar in this case. The “cucumber” by itself, or just saying that word, was not the problem; the situation was only aggravated by Anthony’s curiosity, but he would not have gotten himself into a pickle if there had not been a cucumber in the first place. It seemed that the longer he spent with the girl, trying to satisfy his curiosity, the longer he metaphorically soaked in the vinegar, which gave her accomplices time to get there and completely put him in a pickle. In this way, the word “cucumber” seemed to foreshadow trouble for Anthony. If Anthony had suppressed his curiosity and had not acted upon the word cucumber, he would not have gotten himself into a problematic situation.



  1. Wow! “Pickling the Cucumber” – that is really clever that I just had to comment! I have been wondering about the purpose of using a cucumber for the title. Now that you say this, I can see a second meaning as to why Anthony changes his title from “The Mystery of the Second Cucumber” to “The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl.” The main conflict in the story is that he is having writers block. He is in a pickle. Then after his little adventure he is no longer in a pickle because he has some new experiences that serve as juicy inspiration for his writing.

    Likewise, it is quite ironic when Eastwood says, “Sometimes the title led to a plot all by itself…but in this case the title continued to adorn the top of the page, and not the vestige of a plot was forthcoming.” In all actuality, the title of his story does lead to a plot all by itself. Without that title, he would not have been so inclined to say the password “cucumber,” and thus he would not have went up the stairs. Furthermore, when he claims that “The two essentials for a story were a title and a plot – the rest was mere spade-work,” the statement sets up the rest of the story. He has a title that will lead to his plot, and the rest of his story is spade-work or “preliminary or initial work, such as the gathering of data, on which further activity is to be based” (Dictionary.com). His adventure represents his spade-work. Thus, by the end of this story, he has all the ingredients to write his story: a title, a plot, and spade-work.

  2. I really like how you explain the cucumber analogy. Andrew Eastwood clearly got himself in a pickle because he got fooled and robbed; however, there is a positive spin to him acting on the word cucumber. If he hadn’t acted upon it, he would have never heard of the mystery of the spanish shawl and then would not have a new plot for a story. As he sits down at his typewriter, he begins to think about the story the “police officer” had told him. “He surveyed it [the title] for a moment or two in silence. Then he began to type rapidly…” (Pg. 204). The story used to distract Eastwood while he was being robbed was exactly the inspiration that he needed to begin his new story. Therefore, the bad led to the good.

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