illustration of Sherlock Holmes in profile looking across a cityscape with a magnifying glass in the distance and a speckled band visible through the glass

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Start Free Trial

Why did Doyle use Watson's perspective instead of Holmes' in "The Adventure of The Speckled Band" and what are the advantages?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Arthur Conan Doyle used Dr. Watson as the narrator in almost all of the Sherlock Holmes stories he wrote. He must have given a lot of thought to this technical matter. He was following the example set by the great American literary genius Edgar Allan Poe in his "tales of ratiocination," notably "The Purloined Letter," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," and "The Gold Bug." F. Scott Fitzgerald later did the same thing in his novel The Great Gatsby, which is narrated by Nick Carraway although the hero is Gatsby. By using what is commonly a "minor character as narrator," Doyle had the freedom to insert extraneous description of such things as the landscape, the weather, and the overall mood. This would have been difficult if Doyle was inside the detective's mind and trying to focus on his thought processes. Typically, Holmes will explain his deductions at the end of the story, and usually he will explain them to his friend Watson after the action is all over. This is the case, for example, in "The Red-Headed League." Poe does the same thing in the three stories mentioned above. The more dramatic elements in the stories come first, while the explanations come last. It would seem to be nearly impossible to have both the dramatic and the ratiocination come at the same time. Watson is also free to describe Holmes in action, and inaction, and to express his great admiration for his friend. Holmes could hardly describe himself objectively or express his admiration for his own brilliance. 

Raymond Chandler, one of America's best mystery writers, narrated his novels in the first-person from the point of view of the detective Philip Marlowe. Marlowe tells the reader some of the things he observed--but not everything. In The Big Sleep, for example, he does not tell the reader how he guessed that Carmen had murdered Rusty Regan until he springs it on Vivian Regan at the end. And in Farewell, My Lovely, he does not tell the reader that he guesses that Helen Grayle is the Velma that Moose Malloy is seeking until Moose actually identifies her towards the end. In the aftermath Marlowe explains all his ratiocination to Anne Riordan at her home in Bay City over a few glasses of whiskey.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Adventure of The Specked Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tracks the suspicious movements on the estate where Helen Stoner lives with her eccentric step-father Grimesby Roylott. Holmes, accompanied by Watson, investigates the strange goings on, ever mindful of the fact that Helen's sister died mysteriously two years previously, shortly before her marriage. Helen is now also engaged and is unsettled by noises and unusual activities on the estate. 

By using Watson as the first-person narrator, Doyle allows the reader some measure of intrigue as the reader himself tries to solve the mystery; all part and parcel of any good detective story. The reader is encouraged to make his own deductions and assumptions. Additionally, by using Watson, Doyle is able to ensure that the story does not unfold too quickly as it is Holmes who is the genius and Watson is often unaware of what Holmes may be thinking, too wrapped up in his own confused thinking.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial