Literary Analysis of the Setting, Characters and Structure of The Adventure of the Speckled Band
Sir Author Conan Doyle was most popular for his detective fiction short stories starring the famous character Sherlock Holmes. He used various writing techniques to create suspenseful short stories to gain credit for creating the most popular fiction detective of all time. Doyle became an expert at detective fiction because of his ability to use different writing styles and methods to create exciting stories filled with anticipation and tension. One of the greatest examples is “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” where Doyle’s use of characterization, setting, and story structure contribute to combining a horror gothic and a detective fiction into an exciting short story.
The use of characterization is one way Doyle creates a suspenseful story. The narrator, Watson, tells the story in first person. The narrator is a partner and friend to Sherlock Holmes, yet he is not the main detective of the case. He sees the same crime scenes, same evidence, same stories of victims as Holmes, yet he never can fully solve the case himself. This is essential to creating a suspense throughout the story. Because Watson is not analytical enough to solve the cases on his own, the reader is also left clueless to solve the case. Doyle does this on purpose because if the readers knew the whole time what the mystery of the speckled band was, then there would be no excitement or tension as the readers are waiting for the case to be solved. For example, Watson and Holmes both saw the same evidence in Helen’s house, and Holmes was able to draw conclusions, while Watson stated that “(he could) not see any connection” (15) between any pieces of evidence to the crime. The reader therefore does not know how to solve the case and then can anticipate and even try to guess what the answer may be. Doyle cleverly leaves false clues throughout the piece, including adding dangerous animals and bands of gypsies. Doyle does this so the reader will have a hard time solving the case on his or her own and grow excited to finally find out what the real cause of death is. The anticipation in revealing the cause of murder builds up tension throughout the piece because of how mysterious and puzzling the case really is.
Another use of characterization that Doyle added to create an anxious and worried feeling in reader’s heads is the victim of the case, Helen. She is an innocent and helpless lady who fears for her own life. She rushes over to Holmes’s apartment early in the morning wearing a black veil over her head which she raises to reveal the terror in her eyes. She shivers and claims that the cause is not of cold but of fear, pure terror. “Her features and figure were those of a woman of thirty, but her hair was shot with premature grey, and her expression was weary and haggard” (Doyle 2). Doyle uses a helpless, scared woman as a victim to make the readers want to feel scared for her. Doyle’s use of body features and dramatization of the sense of fear that she feels is added so the readers feel that the case must be very serious and dangerous if it is taking a toll on Helen’s own physical features and mental health. The readers feel fear for Helen’s life since she is living in the same room where her own sister died and next to a man of pure evil, Dr. Roylott.
Dr. Roylott is another use of characterization added to scare the readers. The man is very violent and short tempered, and even served a sentence in prison. He is known as the terror of his village. Dr. Roylott barges in Holmes’s house and Watson describes him as a huge man with “a large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles, burned yellow with the sun, and marked with every evil passion” (8). Doyle creates the perfect villain. This man is described as an immoral, malicious person who is capable of doing awful things. The readers get a sense of uneasiness after Doyle reveals Dr. Watson’s true self because this man is living right next to the innocent and terrified Helen. He is cunning enough to track Helen, and strong enough to beat her, or possibly murder her. Helen is not safe in her home. This makes the readers feel very anxious because Helen’s own home is not safe, and she has no place to go to escape her fears.
Helen lived right next to a villainous man which is a perfect setting Doyle created to add tension to the piece. Doyle purposefully had Helen living in the same room where her own twin sister died. This adds a creepy and suspenseful mood to the entire story. The home she lives in is a huge mansion that is somewhat falling apart. Doyle creates an eerie atmosphere because the house is very old and “the windows were broken and blocked with wooden boards, while the roof was partly caved in” (11). The house is not exactly the type of place someone would place a “home sweet home” doormat in front of. The uncomfortableness of the house causes the readers to feel discomfort of their own. It is a perfect setting for a sinister crime to take place.
Doyle also uses the weather to create a creepy atmosphere to the readers. On the night of Helen’s sister’s death, “the wind was howling outside, and the rain was beating and splashing against the windows” (5). This stages the ultimate scene for a spooky crime to take place. If Doyle set the scene on a bright sunny day, rather than during a storm in the dead of the night, then the readers may feel less fearful towards the situation. Even modern suspense and horror movies use weather in their favor to create a tenacious atmosphere. Doyle foreshadows the next repeating crime when he adds that there is “a chill wind blowing” (15) on the night that Holmes and Watson stake out in Helen’s room. Doyle sets the scene to get to the fears of readers. A reader can relate to the gothic aspect of the narrative more if the surroundings are as dark and dreary as the plot.
Doyle’s gothic writing techniques used to create the plot of the story also adds to the sensational effect of the passage. Doyle creates the plot of the story so that the readers are at a sense of tension throughout the entire passage. This is because a life is on the line. If the case is not solved in time, then Helen may be killed. Doyle achieves this sense of a ticking time limit to the readers through the use of events leading up to Julia’s death correlating with similar events that Helen is going through. Julia heard a soft whistle each night days before she died. Helen says that she hears the same low whistles at night. Julia died days before her wedding. Helen is getting married soon. The readers know that it may be foreshadowing an approaching death. Sherlock then finds out that Dr. Roylott had very strong motives in standing in the way of his step-daughters’ marriages. The readers also find out that Helen was moved into Julia’s room not actually due to the construction, but because Dr. Roylott simply used the construction as an excuse to get her into the same room her sister died in. Doyle gives many clues that Dr. Roylott is attempting to murder Helen to give a sense of irrational fear to the readers because she is so close to death each and every night she sleeps in that room.
Doyle also takes advantage of smaller scenes throughout the story to create tension. One example is the night of Julia’s death. The death is rather dramatic and gothic. Helen reveals that she could not sleep that night because “a vague feeling of impending misfortune impressed (her) “(5). She says that because Julia and she were twin sisters, their souls were closely allied. The strange connection between the two sisters is a gothic approach Doyle took to writing this scene. The gothic atmosphere continues to add to the creepiness and suspense of the piece. Julia’s actual death was very dark and tragic. Helen really emphasizes the terrified look Julia had as she slowly swayed back and forth only to fall to her knees and die. She was able to get out just a few sentences before her life came to an end. Doyle’s use of a slow, dramatic death gives an atmosphere of mystery and tension.
Another scene Doyle adds to create an atmosphere of suspense is the night of Watson and Holmes’s stakeout. The detective and associate begin their night in an inn discussing the case. Holmes is at a sense of uneasiness because he thinks the case is very dangerous and horrible. He even offers Watson a pipe to “turn (their) minds for a few hours to something more cheerful” (15). Holmes is not the type of character to feel scared or worried easily so this causes the readers to also worry.
Holmes and Watson then start staking out from inside of Helen’s room. Doyle drags this scene out to create suspense. The nervous narrator states that “the parish clock boomed out every quarter of an hour. How long they seemed, those quarters! Twelve struck, and one and two and three, and still we sat waiting silently for whatever might befall” (16). The readers are left in anticipation to finally be informed on the mystery of the speckled band. The sound of a low whistle eventually appears after hours of staking out. Holmes rushes up strikes a light and lashes at the bell-pull. The horrified narrator is still clueless as to what Holmes is lashing out at. A loud “dreadful shriek” (17) is the last thing the narrator hears. Doyle adds the sudden quickness of events to create an exciting scene and to make the readers even more anticipated to find out what the speckled band is.
Doyle’s use of damsels in distress, villains, old mansions, and dark plots all contribute to making “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” a suspenseful and sensational short story. Doyle is able to get to the viewers’ emotions by creating an atmosphere of irrational fear. He fuses a classic fictional detective story with a gothic tale of fear and surprise.
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