Sherlock Holmes is the main character in the story, as in all the Sherlock Holmes stories. He is a very proper and intelligent man with an extraordinary gift. He is Observant and analytical person and can obtain a large amount of information from a small amount of clues, which most others would overlook. From early on in the story Holmes does not hesitate to show off his detective skills when he meats Helen Stoner: “You have come in by train this morning, I see. I observe the second half of a return ticket in the palm of marks are perfectly fresh.
There is no vehicle save a dog-cart which throws up mud in that way, and then only when you sit on the left-hand side of the driver”. This shows that Holmes considers these observations to be trivial, and that they do not stretch his talent whatsoever. Doctor Watson is Holmes’ assistant. He is a fully qualified doctor and so a clever man, but next to Holmes he often comes across as a clumsy, less intelligent person. This contrast makes Holmes and Watson an interesting duo to read about. Watson is used for occasional humour during the story.
It is very apparent that Watson admires Holmes: “I had no keener pleasure than in following Holmes in his professional investigations and admiring his rapid deductions”. Finally, Conan-Doyle uses Watson to put forward questions and opinions, which the reader may be thinking of. Holmes never openly rejects these opinions, but nor does he accept them or answer Watson’s questions clearly. This creates red herrings, which ensure that the outcome of the story remains a mystery to the reader.
Helen Stoner, the lady that has come to Holmes for help, is portrayed in this story as the ‘damsel in distress’. She is in desperate need of assistance and has no one else to turn to. Whilst Helen is trying to explain her predicament to Holmes, He is very calm and collective and does not let her tell the story in full immediately; he frequently asks for details or interrupts Helen. This keeps the reader interested because he or she is eager to learn the story. Holmes’ attitude towards Helen reflects the time the story was written in.
Holmes is very sympathetic and gentlemanly towards Helen: “‘you must not fear,’ said he soothingly, bending forward and patting her forearm. ‘We shall soon set matters right, I have no doubt'”. Holmes is not being sexist in his assumption that Helen is helpless and afraid, he is merely showing the attitude towards women that was shared by most men at that time. Holmes knows that Helen needs help from someone who is reassuring and confident. Roylott is Helen’s stepfather. Roylott is an aggressive, violent character who threatens Holmes by bending his poker.
Roylott is the prime suspect in the story for the reader, because the death of his stepdaughters would mean he would receive their inheritance. Throughout the story, Conan-Doyle gives several clues as to the outcome of the mystery. Firstly, when Helen is telling her story from the beginning, the reader learns that Roylott, who would inherit an amount of money in the case of the two sisters’ deaths, is a short-tempered, dangerous man who has a history of violence: “There was a series of disgraceful quarrels and brawls with anyone giving him the least offence”.
These clues make Roylott the prime suspect for the death of Julia Stoner. Secondly, although it leaves many questions unanswered, Helen reveals that Julia’s last words were: “Helen! It was the band! The Speckled band! “. It turns out that she was describing the snake that bit her. Finally, there are several important clues given in Helen’s bedroom, next to Roylott’s room, before the plot is unfolded. Above Helen’s bed, which is fixed to the floor, is a bell rope that does not work, and a ventilator. The ventilator is in a very strange place: the dividing wall between the two rooms.
It turns out that these features were to allow the snake to get to Helen. Such clues were intended to intrigue the reader and hint to the reader, giving them a chance to work the mystery out for themselves. These clues are typical of the mystery genre. There are also several red herrings in the story, for example, the gypsies living in the grounds: “It must have been those wretched gypsies in the plantation”. These points are irrelevant but raise questions in the mind of the reader, making them want to read on. Conan-Doyle also uses tension to keep the reader interested.
When Holmes and Watson are waiting for the snake to arrive in Helen’s room, they are in darkness and speak in whispers. Holmes makes it clear to Watson that they are in considerable danger and must not get caught. Conan-Doyle also uses language techniques such as shorter sentences to achieve this tension. At the end of the story, as was common in stories of this genre, Holmes gives an explanation of the crime for the benefit of the reader. ‘The Devil’s Foot’ is similar to ‘The Speckled Band’ in that from the start there is a character that we have reason to suspect: Mortimer.
At first, Mortimer does not seem to be as vicious an enemy as Roylott, as was common in the time the story was written, but several clues unearthed by Holmes point the finger at him. The murder in this case is also similar to the murder in ‘The Speckled Band’. It is a very horrific and mysterious murder that some in the story believe to be of a supernatural nature. Murders like this were often present in stories of this time and genre and were designed to fascinate and shock the reader. Holmes, however, says: “if it is beyond this world then it is certainly beyond me”.
This makes the reader believe that there must be a logical or scientific explanation. The crime is again solved by Holmes, who solves the mystery by noticing small clues and gathering information, in this case, noticing the link of combustible powder between the two rooms in which the murders took place. To support his idea of this powder being the cause of the deaths, Holmes puts his life on the line and tries it on himself. This eccentricity and willingness to go so far to solve a crime makes Holmes all the more interesting and unusual to the reader.