Examine the ways in which the author, creates suspense and tension in ‘The Speckled Band’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the ‘Body Snatcher’ by Robert Louis Stevenson Speckled Band The Speckled Band is about an evil stepfather named Dr Roylott who has the intention of murdering his stepdaughter Helen to gain her property, having already murdered her older sister Julia, in a mysterious way. When his younger stepdaughter gets suspicious, as the mysterious circumstances repeated themselves, she contacts Mr Holmes.
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Mr Holmes tries to help Miss Stoner find out who killed her older sister and what with. In the opening paragraph we are given unanswered questions, which makes the reader feel uncertain of the situation. We are told Holmes only investigates strange cases; this makes the reader wonder what they are going to be learning of. Sherlock Holmes awoke from his sleep earlier than usual, even though he is described as a ‘late riser’. This interests the reader because of the sense of urgency, which Homes shows.
Miss Stoner is described as wearing ‘a black dress and veil’.
This makes the reader curious as to why is she wearing black as black usually symbolises death or that a tragedy has happened. Watson and Holmes mention that she is shivering, a sudden twist occurs when the woman replies ‘It is not the cold which makes me shiver… it is fear… it is terror’. This reply creates tension and apprehension, we are presented with many unanswered questions, ‘Why is she scared’ being the main one. This creates suspense and tension because the unanswered questions give us vague details about the whole situation.
Miss Stoner had ‘prematurely grey hair’ this detail was mentioned because sometimes people who have a lot of stress get grey hair prematurely, so the author is trying to emphasise that she is extremely worried about the situation. Also she is described as a ‘hunted animal’, this emphasises her vulnerability and causes the reader to be uncomfortable. We only know that she is troubled and fatigued but what caused it is unknown to the reader even though we are told all of these descriptions of Miss Stoner.
We are told about Dr Roylott and of how he murdered ‘his native butler’. This increases the awareness of the reader about Dr Roylott’s aggressive and violent behaviour. He keeps exotic Indian animals such as the ‘baboon and cheetah’, which makes Dr Roylott baffling since he doesn’t act in a normal way so the reader cannot fully understand his character. Dr Roylott followed Miss Stoner to Mr Holmes house. This makes Dr Roylott seem a desperate person seeing as he is willing to spy on his stepdaughter and it therefore seems that he has something to hide.
Dr Roylott is described as a man with ‘immense strength’ and with a very short-tempered anger. This is reinforced when Dr Roylott bent the poker and warned Mr Holmes that he is a very dangerous man. This striking first appearance of Dr Roylott makes the reader understand why he is such a dangerous man. Dr Roylott has the ability to intimidate most people but not Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is now seen as the knight in shining armour who is going to save Helen. Dr Roylott lets gypsies to stay on his land he becomes friends with them.
This makes him seem more mysterious because people in that time of age wouldn’t usually allow gypsies to stay on their grounds and then associate themselves with them, this is a very abnormal type of behaviour. Miss Stoner told Sherlock Holmes that Julia said before she passed away that it was the ‘speckled band’ and then pointed towards Dr Roylott’s room. This leads the reader to think that the death had something to do with the gypsies, the reason being that gypsies were usually stereotyped as wearing bandanas. The reader assumes that the gypsies may have killed Julia.
We learn about Helen’s problems when she explains them to Holmes, we are now answered some of the questions the reader had before. We are told that Helens sister was murdered which raises tension in the conversation. The fact that Julia died just before the day of her wedding raises the awareness of the reader. Since Dr Roylott wanted to keep the money, he’d have to get rid of Julia before she was married, this raises suspicion about him. The reader asks ‘why did he go to bed early? ‘ We have more unanswered a question such as ‘How did she die? ‘ that bewilders the reader.
Helen tells us in great detail about the night Julia died next-door to Dr Roylott’s room. Julia earlier that night heard a peculiar ‘low whistle’ and a loud sound of metal being struck. These strange noises give a sense of unease to the reader. The two sisters would lock themselves in their room, which tells us they don’t feel safe on their own, ‘we had no feeling of security unless our doors were locked’. Julia is alone and isolated from her sister and the strange sound creates tremendous stress within the reader because the reader is scared for her.
A cheetah and a baboon are loose in the garden. Helen is engaged; when Julia was just about to get married she was killed. The reader already knows that if they got married Dr Roylott would lose a lot of money. These two factors are put together and now the reader fears for Helen’s life. Mr Holmes inspects the room that Julia died in. He notices that the house is being repaired even though it doesn’t seem to need repair. Helen told Holmes ‘I believe that it was an excuse to move me from my room’, now that she is in the room in which her sister died in, she is now very vulnerable.
The fact that the house has scaffolding gives the reader the impression that a person may have entered the house from the outside, this misleads the reader slightly from what really happened. The room door had been locked and shutters with iron bars blocked the windows. The room had very unusual features such as ‘dummy bell ropes and ventilators that did not ventilate’. The ventilator goes into Dr Roylott’s room, we are now wary of Dr Roylott that he used these features to kill Julia. In Dr Roylott’s room was a ‘saucer of milk’, which is quite strange since if it were for a cheetah it would have drank it in one lick.
Also a ‘lash that was tied in a loop of whipcord’ was found in Dr Roylott’s room, this produces an image that he may have strangled Julia because it was designed to get tighter when pulled and could have been placed through the ventilator to strangle her. The whole situation holds the reader in suspense and there is a sense of unpredictability as to what is going to happen. Mr Holmes is capable of noticing small points and then reaching a conclusion, he demonstrated his ability as a detective at the beginning of the story when he knew how Miss Stoner got to his house by glancing at her ticket and coat.
He notices these small points and puts them together, after that incident the reader is able to rely on Mr Holmes for answers. After he examined both of the rooms he advised Helen to listen to what he said because her life may depend upon it. Holmes had certainly spotted something very significant but he does not tell us which adds to the anxious and tense atmosphere. Mr Holmes and Watson discuss the situation, Mr Holmes clearly informs Watson that the bed being clamped to the floor, the ventilator and dummy bell rope played a link of the death of Helen. The scene is dark that gives a chilling scene.
Mr Holmes and Watson encounter a ‘distorted child’ whilst walking on the grounds it was described as having ‘writhing limbs’. This is a grim picture that adds to the dark and chilling atmosphere. The child is described as ‘running swiftly across the lawn into darkness’, which makes everything seem mysterious and strange. We later find out it was the baboon. When Holmes is in Helen’s room they agree to ‘sit without light’, since there is no light unexpected things happen such as the noises they hear. The reader is now fearful for Holmes and Watson because they can’t clearly see what’s happening.
Holmes tells Watson to have the pistol ready which gives the impression that they are waiting for something terrible to happen which creates a huge amount of anxiety and apprehension. Holmes for the first time in the story is nervous; this makes the reader think that a big event is about to take place. The cheetah is at liberty that increases the sense of insecurity. We as readers are unsure of what is going to happen and so is Watson, they waited ‘silently for whatever might befall’. They sit in the room waiting for what is going to happen for hours.
‘Holmes sprang from the bed and lashed furiously with his cane at the bell pull’; the reader and also Holmes are very anxious and edgy. Mr Holmes shouted to ask Watson if he could ‘see it? ‘ but he couldn’t, this creates tension and the fact that Watson can’t ‘see it’ he is at a higher risk of being harmed so therefore the reader worries for Watson. Then the low whistle occurred followed by a ‘horrible cry’ which swelled up louder and louder’, Watson and the reader are disorientated about what could of that scream have meant. The doctor was being choked but we don’t understand what is going on.
Watson and Holmes feel insecure, ‘take your pistol and we will enter Dr Roylott’s room’. Holmes and Watson find a swamp adder wrapped around Dr Roylott’s neck. The reader now understands that the ‘speckled band’ was the patterns on the snake, the suspense and the tense feeling gradually fades away from the reader. At the end of the story an unpredictable twist happens, that of the ‘speckled band’. The author used a very successful red herring; the reader now knows the red herring was the gypsies, because the reader when told of the ‘speckled band’ in the beginning assumes that it was the gypsies.
As the story progresses there are more and more possibilities of the cause of Julia’s death, the gypsies being one of many. Holmes solved that the ‘saucer of milk’ was there to lure the snake, the reader couldn’t link these clues together and therefore tension is built up very well. The baboon and cheetah acted as a slight red herring since they made them feel insecure and increased the tension in situations even though they were not involved. The author is successful in keeping suspense and tension all through out the story keeping the reader intrigued and interested.