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The Speckled Band contains an amazing piece of deduction from Sherlock Holmes which no one could work out from the small measure of evidence that Sherlock Holmes used to solve the case. Ironically a young woman appeals to him for help thinking that she is the next victim of a supposed murder. Two years earlier her sister had been sleeping in a room when in the middle of the night she had died mysteriously. The only evidence that had been was that before her ultimate death she had rushed out of her room screaming incoherently about a speckled band.
She also mentioned that earlier she had heard a low whistling sound.
The cause of her death had never been explained and now when the surviving sister (Holmes client) had been sleeping in the same said room she to had begum to here a strange whistle in the middle of the night. She came to Sherlock Holmes having deduced that the same fate was probably going to befall her.
Sherlock Holmes deduces simply from the presence of a ventilator and a rope hanging from it that these features were the cause of the sister’s untimely death. He deduces that these items were placed for the simple purpose of letting a deadly snake slide down and sink its poisonous fangs into its victim.
An important factor in the story is Holmes detective logic that he uses to solve the mystery. We are given the same details that Holmes describes to Dr. Watson; “A ventilator is made, a cord is hung and a lady who sleeps in the bed dies”.
We are told that the bed is clamped to the floor, emphasising that these things have deliberately been put in place. Watson together with the reader is given as much information as Holmes but only Holmes superior reasoning powers are able to solve this seemingly impossible mystery. This leads to another important feature of Conan Doyle’s stories, the use of Watson as a narrator.
This gives the effect of the distance between our logic and that of Holmes’s making him seem even more wonderful and clever by contrast. Conan Doyle puts Watson there to show that he (and we) are only average in intelligence and thus highlighting Holmes’ genius even more. This story no only depends on the logical puzzle but also on the atmosphere of terror. In fact from the beginning we realise that the death the death must have been caused by the sinister stepfather, we can see this from the fact that the stepfather came and warned Holmes not to meddle otherwise he might find himself squeezed in his bear like hands.
We can also see that the motive for killing them was in order that he might keep both of his stepdaughter’s money. From the beginning the point of this mystery is not to find a murderer but to find out the why of Helen Stoners sister’s death. The characterisation brings out the terror strongly, with its contrast between the vulnerable, weak female victim, and the toweringly, strong evil stepfather. We can see him as strong from his visit to Holmes on Baker Street; He stepped swiftly forward, seized the poker, and bent it into a curve with his huge brown hands.
Helen, the understandably terrified client, is typical of the convention in Victorian detective fiction which casts and vulnerable women in a position of danger, from which they are rescued from by the intellectually and physically powerful male detective. This convection is carried over from gothic fiction, where typically the central character is a terrified young woman, pressured by an evil villain in some sinister setting such as a ruined castle. Watson describes Helen with a simile which brings out her terror and vulnerability well; “Restless, frightened eyes, like those of some hunted animal”.
The atmosphere of suspense is also heightened by the use Conan Doyle makes of settings and atmosphere. Sherlock Holmes and Watson are based in their comfortable rooms in Baker Street; safe in the heart of civilized London. This is contrasted with the isolated country castle where the story is set. The building was of grey, lichen blotched stone, with a high central portion and two curving wings like the claws of a crab. This gives the house an eerie atmosphere and animal imagery is used to heighten the effect of something evil closing in on the terrified victim.
The description of a lonely ruined house is a very typical gothic element which is a popular feature in many of Conan Doyle’s stories. The Gothic atmosphere contributes to the showing of the persecuted victims fear and terror, so that the setting adds as a symbol of the character’s state of mind. At the end of the story, Holmes’s actions result in the death of Helen’s stepfather and he comments; “I can not say that it is likely to weigh on my conscience”. This is a good example of sardonic humour that is often present on the stories.
The story follows the strict morality that says that justice must be done upon the evildoer even if the justice is handed out through the normal legal methods. In this story as in many others a horror that defies reason is safely beaten by the logic of a rational detective. This brings me to the point that critics have pointed out the irony that Holmes’s ‘pure logic’ is full of careless inaccuracies on Conan Doyle’s part. The ‘Swamp Adder’ does not exist and a snake would not be able to live in an unventilated spot (the safe) as this story requires.
Throughout these three stories we see that Conan Doyle strongly believed that crime does not pay and that in the end the evildoer would be punished. Another moral element in the stories is the question ‘Does the end justify the means? ‘ This moral element is probably best shown in ‘The Speckled Band’ where in the end the Holmes stops a murder by killing the murderer though indirectly. One could argue that this was a just punishment for a murderer and that if Dr Roylott hadn’t been killed he probably would have carried on in his evil ways.
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