The Adventure of the Speckled Band Questions and Answers
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Speckled Band book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What is the speckled band in the title of the story?

Expert Answers info

William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write5,416 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

The speckled band is really a poisonous snake. It was responsible for the death of Julia Stoner, but no one realized at the time that Julia had been bitten by a snake. According to Helen Stoner, Julia came out into the corridor writhing with pain. As she was dying she said:

‘Oh, my God! Helen! It was the band! The speckled band!’ There was something else which she would fain have said, and she stabbed with her finger into the air in the direction of the doctor's room, but a fresh convulsion seized her and choked her words. 

Julia was evidently pointing at Dr. Roylott's room to show that he was responsible for sending a poisonous snake into her room to kill her. She was too far gone to be completely coherent. Holmes asks Helen:

“Ah, and what did you gather from this allusion to a band—a speckled band?”

“Sometimes I have thought that it was merely the wild talk of delirium, sometimes that it may have referred to some band of people, perhaps to these very gipsies in the plantation. I do not know whether the spotted handkerchiefs which so many of them wear over their heads might have suggested the strange adjective which she used.”

The important point here is that the author, Arthur Conan Doyle, could not have Julia use the word "snake" because that would have practically given the whole plot away. Julia is delirious. She probably saw the snake but could only come up with a description of it as a "speckled band." Doyle introduces a false clue by having Helen suggest that the term might refer in some way to the band of gipsies who frequent the property. Otherwise, it would be all too obvious that Dr. Roylott had killed Julia and was now trying to kill Helen, both girls for the same reason, that he was legally obligated to pay them a substantial annual sum from their mother's estate if they got married. Julie had become engaged shortly before her death two years earlier, and Helen had only recently become engaged herself. Dr. Roylott had moved Helen into Julia's room next to his on the pretext of having some repairs done to her own room.

When Holmes and Watson spend the night in Helen's room next to Roylott's, they hear a low whistle at around three o'clock in the morning. Holmes immediately lights a match and starts striking at something with his cane. 

He had ceased to strike and was gazing up...

(The entire section contains 860 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial