Arthur Conan Doyle’s Use of Pathos in “The Adventures of The Speckled Band”

Categories: Fear


Pathos, a rhetorical device designed to persuade the reader and evoke emotion within the reader, is used commonly among writers in many forms of writing including political speeches, poems, and short stories. In Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventures of The Speckled Band," the use of pathos plays a major role in creating an apprehensive atmosphere. Doyle's use of pathos throughout the story is done through many techniques including description of characters, misleading clues, and through the use of an inexperienced narrator.

Description of Characters

Throughout the story, Doyle's depiction of main characters such as Helen Stoner and her stepfather, Dr. Grimesby Roylotts provides the foundation of pathos with the feelings of empathy and excitement. When first introduced to Helen, she is described to be "dressed in black and heavily veiled" and "her face all drawn and grey, with restless frightened eyes, like those of some hunted animal" (Doyle). With the absence of colour and with the use of different shades of black, it is clear that Helen's past and current situation has been haunting her and causing her an excessive amount of stress.

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Doyle's representation of Helen functions to create a connection between the reader and Helen through feelings of empathy. Dr. Roylotts, however, is immediately showcased as guilty of the crime which introduces an obvious suspect in the mystery. This functions to narrow the readers focal point throughout the story and creates a feeling of exhilaration within the reader and involves the reader in solving the case. Doyle uses this to his advantage to steer the reader an alternate direction and allows an unpredictable narrative in how Julia Stoner, Helen's twin sister, was murdered.

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Mysteries are known to include deceiving clues to engage the reader.

Misleading Clues

Doyle uses this idea to his advantage to include bizarre yet deceiving clues to evoke a sense of suspicion within the reader. These clues that Doyle leaves for the reader ties in with how he depicts his characters, one of which being Dr. Roylotts. Doyle describes the doctor as "a man of immense strength, and absolutely uncontrollable in his anger" (Doyle), which to most would draw suspicion and initially lead the reader to believe that the doctor himself was the reason behind Juila's death. This establishes a foundation of of suspense in the reader. However, although the doctors inability to control his strength plays a role in the mystery to be solved, it is not ultimately the main cause of Juila's death. In addition, Doyle proceeds to mention that "a cheetah and a baboon...wander freely" (Doyle) on the grounds but fails to mention the presence of a snake. This further builds on the readers suspicion that the cheetah or baboon is responsible for Juila's death as both animals are not known to be common forms of pets and they are roaming without supervision. The title of the short story, "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" also manages to provide a clue that can be misinterpreted. The adjective speckled could be seen as referring to the cheetah which can lead to the inference of the cheetah being the cause of Julia's death. This could establish a sense of confidence in readers as they begin to formulate a theory. All of these clues were major details in the short story that Doyle seemed to emphasize on to establish suspense but also confidence in the reader as they are led to believe that one of these factors was cause of Julia's death. But the details that have more importance to the case are briefly and quickly brushed upon to maintain eagerness for a resolution, tension and a dark tone in the story.

Inexperienced Narrator

The use of an inexperienced narrator, Dr. Watson, furthers the suspenseful and thrilling tone of the piece of writing and enables curiosity by allowing the reader to formulate theories on how Juila was killed. The tone and amount of pathos that Doyle had the ability to embed into the story likely would have been less significant if Dr. Watson had been as experienced as Sherlock Holmes. There were many clues Dr. Watson disregarded while Holmes observed and took note of including the fact that 'It [the bed] was clamped to the floor" (Doyle), or the fact that Helen's sister could "....could smell Dr. Roylott's cigar" (Doyle) in her room despite there not being a connection between their rooms. Doyle's use of Dr. Watson as the narrator rather than Holmes creates tension and suspense that creates an eagerness in the reader to find out the cause of Julia's death.


Doyle's use of pathos throughout "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" through the depiction of main characters and setting, manipulating the given clues and use of an inexperienced narrator functions to enhance the reader's experience and establish a suspenseful yet exciting tone to the mystery.

Works cited

  1. Conan Doyle, A. (1892). The Adventure of the Speckled Band. In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (pp. 91-125). George Newnes Ltd.
  2. Burke, K. (1969). A Grammar of Motives. University of California Press.
  3. Perelman, C., & Olbrechts-Tyteca, L. (1969). The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation. University of Notre Dame Press.
  4. Aristotle. (2007). Rhetoric. (W. Rhys Roberts, Trans.). Dover Publications.
  5. Fearn, T. (2007). The Logic of Persuasion: How to Win Arguments and Influence Others. Contemporary Books.
  6. Tindale, C. W. (2004). Acts of Arguing: A Rhetorical Model of Argument. SUNY Press.
  7. Walton, D. N. (2014). Persuasive Arguments: Evidence and Inference in Reasoning. Cambridge University Press.
  8. Plantin, C. (2013). Argumentation in the Digital Age. John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  9. Andersen, P. B., & Christiansen, P. V. (Eds.). (2001). The Reflective Lifeworld Research. Tapir Academic Press.
  10. Perloff, R. M. (2018). The Dynamics of Persuasion: Communication and Attitudes in the 21st Century. Routledge.
Updated: Feb 14, 2024
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Arthur Conan Doyle’s Use of Pathos in “The Adventures of The Speckled Band”. (2024, Feb 14). Retrieved from

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