The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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In "The Adventures of the Speckled Band," what is the theme of the story?

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"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" is an example of a sub-genre of mystery stories commonly called a "Locked Room Murder Mystery." Julia was in her bedroom when she experienced the pains and psychological trauma that resulted in her death. Her door had been locked and the windows were covered with heavy iron shutters bolted on the inside. Julia and Helen both locked themselves inside their rooms at night because of their fear of the cheetah and baboon. In a Locked Room Murder Mystery the question is not so much whodunit? as how was it done?

There have been countless locked-room mystery novels and short stories published over the years. The prototype is undoubtedly "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Edgar Allan Poe. The following excerpt from a newspaper article quoted in that story describes the locked-room at the Rue Morgue where two women were horribly murdered.

“Four of the above-named witnesses, being recalled, deposed that the door of the chamber in which was found the body of Mademoiselle L. was locked on the inside when the party reached it....Upon forcing the door no person was seen. The windows, both of the back and front room, were down and firmly fastened from within....There was not an inch of any portion of the house which was not carefully searched. Sweeps were sent up and down the chimneys....A trap-door on the roof was nailed down very securely—did not appear to have been opened for years. 

In both stories the identification of the perpetrator becomes relatively easy after the detective figures out how it was possible to kill anyone who was securely locked inside a room. In the case of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," Sherlock Holmes deduces that Dr. Roylott sent a poisonous snake through a ventilator, knowing that eventually it would bite Julia in her bed. In the case of "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," C. Auguste Dupin realizes that there must have been a way for the perpetrator to get inside the locked room, regardless of how thoroughly the police have searched the premises. It turns out that one of the windows was not firmly shut but only appeared to be so.

The theme of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" can be called "a locked-room murder mystery."

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Arthur Conan Doyle has Sherlock Holmes himself state the theme of the story at the moment Holmes and Watson enter Dr. Roylott's bedroom and find him dead.

"It is a swamp adder!" cried Holmes; "the deadliest snake in India. He has died within seconds of being bitten. Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another."

Holmes could not have known that by striking the snake and driving it back up the bell-rope and through the ventilator into Dr. Roylott's room he would be causing Roylott's death. This is understandable because, although Holmes seems to have some knowledge about that particular kind of snake, he did not know it be angry enough to bite its owner when it returned to his room. Neither did Dr. Roylott,...

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A young woman named Helen Stoner consults the detective Sherlock Holmes about the suspicious death of her sister, Julia. One night, after conversing with her twin sister about her big day, Julia suddenly reappeared in Helen's room, struggling to breathe, and died soon afterwards. Julia had been engaged to be married and, had she lived, would have received an annual 250 GBP annuity from her late mother's income. Now Helen is engaged to be married. Holmes' investigation of the mother's estate reveals that its value has decreased significantly, and if both daughters had married, Dr. Roylott, Helen's ill-tempered and violent stepfather, would be left with very little, while the marriage of even one would be crippling. Therefore, the main suspicion falls on him.

Dr. Roylott has required Helen to move into a particular room of his heavily mortgaged ancestral home, Stoke Moran. A number of details about the place are mysterious and disturbing. A low whistling sound is heard late at night, as well as a metallic clank. There is a strange bell cord over the bed, and it does not seem to work any bell. There are also Julia's dying words about a "speckled band." Stoner surmises that Julia might have been murdered by the gypsies, whom Dr. Roylott permits to live on the grounds—they wear speckled handkerchiefs around their necks. A cheetah and a baboon also have the run of the property, for Dr. Roylott keeps exotic pets. Helen feels reluctant to sleep in the room.

After Helen leaves, Dr. Roylott comes to visit Holmes, having traced his stepdaughter. He demands to know what Helen has said to Holmes, but Holmes refuses to say. Dr. Roylott bends an iron poker into a curve in an attempt to intimidate Holmes, but Holmes is unaffected as he maintains a rather jovial demeanor during the encounter. After Roylott leaves, Holmes straightens the poker out again, thus showing that he is just as strong as the doctor.

Having arranged for Helen to spend the night somewhere else, Holmes and Watson sneak into her bedroom without Dr. Roylott's knowledge. Holmes says that he has already deduced the solution to the mystery, and that this test of his theory turns out to be successful. They hear the whistle, and Holmes also sees what the bell cord is really for, although Watson does not. Julia's last words about a "speckled band" were in fact describing "a swamp adder, the deadliest snake in India". The venomous snake had been sent to Julia's room by Dr. Roylott to murder her. After the swamp adder bit Julia he called off the snake with the whistling, which made the snake climb up through the bell cord, disappearing from the scene.

Now the swamp adder is sent again to kill Julia's sister Helen. Holmes attacks the snake, sending it back through an air ventilator connected to the next room. The angry snake bites Dr. Roylott instead, and, within seconds, he is dead. Grimly noting that he is indirectly responsible for Dr. Roylott's death, Holmes remarks that he is unlikely to feel much remorse because of it.

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