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The Adventure Of The Speckled Band English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2518 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a sparkling author of detective stories; he sold millions of them, which captivated the public. But how did he do it? In order to achieve his caliber he cleverly combined a variety of features in” The Adventure of the Speckled Band” to make a mesmerising tale.

London at the time of the late 19th century was a terrible place to live. Poverty and disease spread across London especially within the slums. The slums were filthy, little, cramped and very inappropriate for people. A somewhat creepy atmosphere was created round London at the time as smog was produced by the factories, which had a big impact on the city, making it a dark and rather sombre place. The fact that street lighting was not around because not even electricity had been discovered. The public had to settle for flickering gas lamps producing minimal light and insufficient for the street. The police force was undeveloped and was not able to solve any crimes, although punishments could be long sentences of transportation. Their methods were not capable of catching criminals because science and forensics had not been discovered .The fact that Jack the Ripper was out on the street made many women vulnerable to murder, which made them feel unsafe alone. The public were aware of the undeveloped police force; this made them feel like the police would not do anything.

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Sherlock Holmes was very popular amongst the Victorians purely because they admired how he solved all his cases and overpowered evil in the end. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was one of the first detective story writers, which the public book market was missing. Also with the crime rates soaring society needed a good detective. Sherlock Holmes was a fictional role model, which pleased the public. In addition he was not a member of the London Police force which was ridiculed for their inefficiency. Evidence of Holmes’s popularity was when Doyle wanted to end the series; he received various death threats demanding more books, so he eventually released another to please public demand.

The only form of entertainment was reading, purely because televisions or radios had not been invented. Doyle presented his short stories, which were quick, fascinating reads. They covered many topics, which were familiar in society. The general public liked prose, especially short stories because it reached many and improved their literacy. The Government realized the importance of reading because it was everywhere and reading was important for everyday life, so they enforced laws that all children must be taught to read and write at school.

In the story the style of the murder carried out is vicious and peculiar. In society there is a generalization that stepfathers are renowned for being nasty and mean. With Julia’s wedding coming up Roylott knew that he had to compile a devious plan and strike quickly. He feared that if Julia got married than all her money would go to her husband. The only family she had was her sister and him. This is ironic as we would expect Dr Roylott to protect his stepdaughters from the outside world in which women were most vulnerable ,not want to kill them. We see another dimension added because Roylott doesn’t just carry out the murder himself he trains a ”loathsome serpent” from India, an exotic and interesting place at the time. The reader feels sympathetic towards Helen because she is in a tricky situation because if she turns Roylott in to the police or tells Holmes about him and his temper then she would lose the only direct family she has. Roylott cleverly planned his crime so that no one would suspect him before it is too late. It was a slow long process which required a lot of patience.

Another great technique so ingeniously used by Doyle was the use of a pathetic fallacy; this is where the natural background at the time of an event matches the mood:

”The wind was howling outside and the rain was beating and splashing against the windows.”

This adds to the suspense of the crime because it insinuates that something bad is going to happen and the reader is left to try and think what might happen.

The villain in the story is quite obvious from the start: it is Dr Roylott we learn that he has a violent temper and is an immensely strong man, which in my opinion are two dangerous characteristics. This is evident from this quotation:

”… for he is a man of immense strength and absolutely uncontrollable in his anger”

In the passage Helen tells us of how he hurled the local blacksmith of a bridge, which is not a normal thing to do, in the eyes of the reader and most would feel intimidated in his presence. With his actions bought consequences like the fact that he had no friends, which made him an outcast in society, which is quite similar to Holmes who had always been a solitary man. His actions just made it easier for the reader and Holmes to point the finger at.

”Dr Grimesby Roylott’s chamber was larger than that of his stepdaughter”

Roylott’s room is referred to as a chamber, the connotation of which suggests evil, like monsters and ghosts. Also it explains how his room is bigger in proportion to his stepdaughters’. This shows how mean and bullying he really is, he is almost the stereotyped villain.

Doyle cleverly varies his language throughout the story whether it is emotive, dramatic, archaic or sophisticated so it always manages to intrigue the reader”… the insolence to confound me with the official detective force!” , Holmes’s speech is very sophisticated and reflects his approach to everything, in contrast with Roylott’s which is an aggressive:

”… laying her hand upon my companion’s sleeve”

This shows Helen’s gratitude towards them, with a kind gesture, which in words would represent ”thank you very much”. This gesture is very emotional as it declares her friendship with Watson and Holmes:

” She was but thirty at the time of her death and yet her hair had

already begun to whiten”

The fact that when Julia was thirty, she had already got white hairs, which is not natural. So as the reader we feel sympathetic towards her as she only lived a short life and evidently a fearful one.

Holmes in the story is a calm, meticulous and powerful man. He is always one step ahead of Watson, his slow thinking colleague and therefore us. As soon as Helen walks into his office he unintentionally shows off his detective skills:

” I shall order you a cup of hot coffee, for I observe that you are shivering.”

This adds to the mystery, as it shows how eagle-eyed the detective is. With a good detective, he is likely to get more details out of the victim, so more clues will evolve in the process. Holmes is very quick witted and always thinks ahead:

”If he is violent we shall take you away to your aunt’s at Harrow.”

This shows the detective’s skills, an ability to look ahead; we clearly see how Helen could be tangled up in a mess when her stepfather returns home. However Holmes predicts and prevents a life- threatening situation.

Another great ingredient in the story is how the motive is not clear from the outset, which means the story is harder to interpret for the reader. There are two possible motives that could be behind the murder. The first is clearly how Helen’s stepfather Roylott is quite wild and irrational:

”….to indulge in ferocious quarrels …”

This explains how he likes getting into quarrels, which just shows the reader that he is dogmatic with other people, not just his family. Personally I would not like to come face to face with such a man! The second prospective motive is the wealth that Helen and her sister Julia inherited from their mother, who died eight years ago in a tragic railway accident. The fact is that Julia is getting married so all her money will no longer be in the hands of devious Roylott, but her husband to be:

”… which had been fixed for the wedding…”

Evidently the fact that Roylott has heard it has been announced for a fixed date, will result in him wanting the money. I think that he wants the money from Julia because money then and now is power, which he actually wants. He also needs the money to be financially comfortable.

The genuine clue in this story is not discovered by Holmes until the end of the story, where he eliminates potential clues, such as the shutters not being able to be opened or the floorboards not being viable. An inspection of Roylott’s room revealed that there was an unusual saucer of milk, a metal safe filled with the unknown ,and a somewhat out of place dog lead, when there was crystal clear evidence that there was no dog:

”In her right hand was found the charred stump of a match, and in her left a matchbox”

This adds to the mystery, because Julia had a matchbox in her hand at the time of her death. This meant she may be looking for someone or something, which leaves the reader with an enigma to work out, contributing to the suspense.

There is one more other clue that I feel most strongly implied what the murder weapon was. This also required me to think fruitlessly about it:

” Too narrow for anyone to pass through”

It states that it is too narrow for anyone to pass, referring to the window, which immediately rings alarm bells in the reader’s mind. So this quotation could imply that the thing that killed Julia was not human at all.

A further excellent ingredient in the story is how the victim is described and how she develops throughout the story with her fluctuating confidence. She is a lonely, petrified woman who is very vulnerable:

”She raised her veil as she spoke, and we could see that she was indeed in a pitiable state of agitation, her face all drawn and gray with restless frightened eyes…”

This makes the reader, wonder why she has ”frightened” eyes and a ”pitiable” state of agitation. Has she been threatened? These characteristics are not usual of middle aged women. The author’s choice of adjectives is very effective and dramatic, particularly as this description occurs at the beginning of the story, creating interest and an atmosphere of fear.

The purpose of a red herring is to send the reader along the wrong path or to mislead the detective. Doyle effectively utilises several red herrings, although the two most devious were the gypsies and the cheetah and the baboon.

Gypsies have always been stereotyped as a problem in most societies to those who lead common lives. When a crowd of gypsies settle into an area and a crime happens, the majority of people assume it was the gypsies. The only possible reason why Holmes and Helen think that it could be the gypsies is when Helen states that before Julia died she screamed:

”It was the band! The speckled band!”

These were the last words of her poor sister’s life, which make them crucial evidence and make the reader come up to all sorts of suspicions. Immediately the reader points the finger at the gypsies because they may have envied the wealth of their family and are known for their wild personalities. The speckled band could be a name of a gang of gypsies seeking revenge on the wealthy.

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The cheetah and baboon are exotic animals and represent Roylott’s desire for dangerous things. Their occurrence in the house and on the grounds creates fear, curiosity an anxiety for all occupants on the site. As it is a red herring it turns out to be totally false and unrelated to the death. Nevertheless Doyle leads the reader and detective on that there is a link between the cheetah and the cup of milk in Roylott’s room. But surely a saucer of milk would not fill a humongous size cat like a cheetah. In my opinion one of the scariest segments of the story is when, late at night Watson and Holmes are confronted with a horrendous site:

”.. a hideous distorted child”

The tension and atmosphere building up to this scene are brilliant in capturing the reader in intrigue. It turns out that the so called ”hideous distorted child” was not a child, but merely a baboon roving the grounds. We feel sorry for Watson for he is not as calm and collective as Holmes. Watson is immediately frightened and shocked at this sight and feels he potentially may have seen the culprit for Julia’s death.

The final key element in this story is the setting and the atmosphere. At the beginning of the story when Helen comes in to Holmes’s office, she is described as being frightened and widow like; this creates a nervous tension for the reader. Therefore the reader tries to understand her pain and tries to figure out her past. When Helen describes the night her sister died, her words are painful and fear-provoking:

” The wind was howling outside, and the rain was beating and splashing against the window”

This pathetic fallacy adds to the mystery, because the weather conditions are dark and daunting. Generally whenever something bad occurs, the weather conditions are dreadful. The word dreadful connotates words like death and danger.

Another scary moment in the story is when Holmes and Watson approach the house for the very first time:

”The building was of gray , lichen blotched stone, with a high central portion and two curving wings, like the claws of a crab, thrown out on each side!”

In this quotation, lies a cleverly embedded simile, which adds another dimension to the reader’s perspective of the house. The vivid description enables the reader to feel a sense of fear like a victim would. Generally the idea of a huge country estate adds to the daunting atmosphere. Also the use of personification makes the house bloodcurdling, because it is as if the house is going to grab you in like a crab would with its claws.

The layout of the house is important in the crime because the rooms are all along one corridor and are linked. This makes it easier to attack one another, with an easy escape.

To conclude, ”The Adventure of the Speckled Band” is a fascinating read with many elements escalating its brilliance. Conan Doyle cleverly uses a variety of techniques to keep the reader in suspense and intrigue. Throughout the story he successfully develops each character to the full extent. He cleverly did not reveal the murder weapon until the end.

I would not normally read such a genre but reading this classic thriller has single handily persuaded me to read more detective stories because they truly keep you on your toes.


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