Sunday, December 26, 2010

Essay on The Speckled Band

Essay on The Speckled Band

"Lamb to the Slaughter" and "The Speckled Band" were written sixty-four years apart and therefore differ in their style and content, however there are also some similarities present. “Lamb to the Slaughter” was written by Roald Dahl and first published in 1954. He is famous for writing children’s books such as “The Twits” and having a vast quantity illustrated by Quentin Blake. He also wrote an autobiography, which he called “Boy”, which was aimed at adults. “The Speckled Band” was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and published in 1892. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was famous for inventing the well-known fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

They are both detective stories, but “The Speckled Band” is a typical detective story relating enormously to the Victorian period in which it was set. In this period, a crime must have been solved and the Victorians would love a good hanging of the murderer. They believed in the saying “An eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth”.

The typical conventions of a Victorian detective story would be a highly violent murder, the crime would have been thoroughly investigated and the penalty would be death. By the time “Lamb to the Slaughter” was written people were ready for a change and a more humorous story. People were less religious and a twist at the end was widely appreciated, despite this the death penalty still stood.

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The two stories are structured in different ways. “Lamb to the Slaughter” is a shorter story so the excitement begins at the beginning of the story. Dahl builds up the suspense by showing that Mrs Maloney is a caring housewife who loves her husband and enjoys spending time with him. We can tell this when Dahl says, “She loved to luxuriate in the presence of this man”. This builds up the suspense because we do not anticipate a murder and are even more surprised when this sweet, gentle woman kills her husband. Events happen very quickly and the story then focuses on how Mrs Maloney gets away with it. The tension mounts when the police arrive and one of the police arrive and one of the detectives says “Find the weapon and you’ve got your man”. This also shows how sexist they are because the automatically think that the murderer is a man. The reader begins to think that maybe the police will find out that Mrs Maloney is the murderer.

In contrast to this “The Speckled Band” has a much slower start because it is a longer story. The book concentrates on the first murder and the events leading up to the second attempted murder. Doyle starts to build up suspense when the reader sees how scared Helen Stoner is of Dr Royolott. The reader feels that she is scared for a reason and there suspicions are justified when Dr Royolott bends the poker whilst he is threatening Sherlock Holmes. The reader sees what a violent person he is and that he is capable of murder. When Dr Watson comments, “His hand closed like a vice upon my wrist in his agitation” the reader sees that the detective is starting to get worried and they feel that they should be too. Unlike “Lamb to the slaughter” there are red herrings to produce surprise when the reader realises that they are wrong. The gypsies achieve this effect. “The presence of the gypsies was sufficient to put me upon an entirely wrong scent”. This shows that Sherlock Holmes was fooled by the gypsies and they are there to act as a decoy.

The two murderers are complete opposites. In “Lamb to the Slaughter” the murderer is a gentle woman who would never have been suspected of murder. Mrs Maloney seems to be a caring housewife and presume this when she thinks “Each minute gone by made it nearer to the time when he would come home”. This adds more amusement to the story and a twist to the tale. At the beginning of “Lamb to the Slaughter” we think that none of the attitudes have changed. We think this because she says “I can easily do it here. I’d like to.” This means that that the story has an interesting twist providing entertainment for the reader. We realise there is tension when Mr Maloney says “Sit down, just for a minute sit down”. When he is telling her he is leaving her, we immediately feel sorry for Mrs Maloney and the reader gets the impression that Mr Maloney is having an affair, which makes the reader feel even more sympathetic towards Mrs Maloney. This, in a way, justifies what she does because we can relate to why she is doing it. Mrs Maloney doesn’t want to be caught because she is pregnant. We realise this on the first page when it says, “For this was her sixth month with child”. This changes our views. If Mrs Maloney just had herself to look after then we would feel she was being selfish but we think she is doing it for them both. However, we also feel that Mrs Maloney may be slightly to good to be true because her whole life revolves around her husband.

In the period that “The Speckled Band” was wrote, a woman was looked down on and regarded as inferior to men. They would stay at home and look after their husband and children. They weren’t allowed out of the house on their own and had to be chaperoned everywhere. Unlike “Lamb to the Slaughter”, “The Speckled Band” is a typical Victorian novel. The murderer is a man because in Victorian times a female murderer would have been unheard of. We can tell that Dr Roylott is a temperamental person when he tells Sherlock Holmes “I am a dangerous am to fall foul of”. This makes us immediately suspect that he could be capable of murder. He is a stereotyped murderer, because he is so angry and violent. The motive for the murder is that Dr Roylott doesn’t want to give up any of his money for his two stepdaughters. We feel no sympathy towards this because he is being greedy and selfish. We respond to Dr Roylott by feeling anger, because he is so self-centred.

The two murderers are very different, the main point being that one is female and follows an untraditional pattern, and the other being male and following the stereo typical conventions for a murder mystery. In “Lamb to the Slaughter”, the murderer gets away with her crime in a cunning way. By the end of the story, we feel she has gone slightly mad. We think this when the policemen are discussing the crime and Mrs Maloney begins to giggle. This gives us the impression that she finds the whole set of events funny, and murder is clearly not a laughing matter. We feel that Mrs Maloney should get away with her crime, mainly for the sake of her unborn child. “The Speckled Band” is the opposite to this. We feel no remorse for Dr Roylott because the only reason he wanted to kill his victims was for his own benefit. When he dies at the end, the reader feels he has received his fate.

Doyle wants you to feel that the murderer has got what is coming to him but Dahl’s feelings are a lot harder to read. In one way, the reader may think that he sees murder as a joke but if you look at the clearer picture I believe that he is trying to say that if you do something wrong you will get the punishment you deserve.

The detectives in the story go about solving the crimes in different ways. The detective in “The Speckled Band” is Sherlock Holmes. He studies all of the evidence very carefully and we can tell this because he says to Helen Stoner “There are a thousand details which I should desire to know before I decide on a course of action”. This shows he likes to get a clear picture and evaluate his clues. Sherlock Holmes is very calm under pressure and can diffuse tension by not showing his true feelings and using sarcasm. This is apparent when Dr Roylott is provoking Sherlock Holmes and the detective replies by laughing, not returning the insults and saying, “When you go out close the door for there is a decided draught”. Sherlock Holmes can admit his weaknesses, which is a sign of humanity. We are shown this when Dr Watson says “Holmes was for the moment as startled as I”. Sherlock Holmes also keeps a professional distance from his witnesses whereas Jack Noonan is far friendlier to Mrs Maloney.

In Lamb to the Slaughter are far more unprofessional. They realise drinking on duty is wrong, but do it anyway. One of the policemen says, “It’s not strictly allowed but I might just take a drop to keep me going”. They are also persuaded to eat the leg of lamb, which indicates that they could be persuaded into doing something that they don’t want to. Also we feel that they are not quite as focused as they should be because they know the victim and are emotionally involved. They are letting their emotions cloud their professional judgement. If they were not so involved the policemen may have solved the crime because they would have been looking more clearly and study the clues with a less biased mind. They don’t suspect Mrs Maloney because they know her and the policemen immediately thinks, “Get the weapon and you’ve got your man”. It never enters his head that the murderer could be a woman. If Mrs Maloney had been a murderer in Victorian times and Sherlock Holmes was investigating the crime I think he would have probably solved the mystery because he would have asked more questions and got a background picture. He also keeps emotionally uninvolved.

“The Speckled Band” was written in the Victorian times, which means that the language and style will reflect this. At the beginning of the story it is written in first person but changes to third person which means that the reader feels more involved and it is personal because we see it through Dr Watson’s eyes and feel what he feels as if we was there. Whereas “Lamb to the Slaughter” is written in third person so you feel distant from the story which allows you to see everyone else’s view because you are watching from outside like watching the television. In “The Speckled Band” most of the description is at the beginning about Stoke Moran, which is where the murderer lives. Similarly, “Lamb to the Slaughter” has a lot of description at the beginning. Both of the authors have set the scene at the beginning so the reader can try and picture the setting in their mind and they have an idea of there surroundings and what situation the crime is taking place in. In “Lamb to the Slaughter” Dahl sets the scene of a warm, loving home environment so this produces an element of surprise. “The Speckled Band” uses harder sentences, which makes it more to read. The language makes it more complex to read because it uses words that we wouldn’t uses now. For example “But you are at liberty to defray”. The word order also makes it more difficult because it is an older style. Some of the sentences miss words out. Where we would say will you not wait and have breakfast? Holmes says, ”Will you not wait and breakfast?” This means some of the sentences have to be reread to get a full understanding. “Lamb to the Slaughter” is inevitably easier to read, as it is a more modern language so we want to read on, but we feel that “The Speckled Band” is more time consuming to read.

It is very easy to tell which story was written over a hundred years ago and this means that we can guess some of the features that the story will include.

In “The Speckled Band”, the moral is very straightforward. It becomes clear in Holmes’ final speech when he says, “Violence in truth does recoil upon the violent”. The writer is trying to say if you are violent you will receive your punishment. The reader is supposed to feel that he got what he deserved. In Lamb to the Slaughter it is not as clear At first we may think that Dahl is suggesting that it is funny that the murderer gets away with it but if she was caught and locked up then the reader would feel it was unjustified. We feel disturbed that she is laughing at the end and she has changed to a cunning woman who has even gone slightly mad. In my opinion Dahl is trying to recognise the fact that times have changed and things are not as black and white as they were in Victorian times. Another point that the book could be trying to make is that if you search deeper in to the crime you will see that things are different than they may first have appeared to be. In addition, it could be said that the moral from both stories are the same. That if you do something wrong you will suffer the consequences. Mr Maloney has done something to Mary so he suffers for those actions whereas in “The Speckled Band” Dr Roylott is getting his comeuppance for his murder and attempted murder.

In conclusion, I think that the more enjoyable story was Lamb to the Slaughter because it was not so typical and had a more varied and amusing story. In “The Speckled Band” you can tell from the beginning that the murderer will be caught, but the red herrings add an element of chance and entertainment. This book may have been more suitable for an elder generation who can relate to what the writer is trying to portray. Murder mysteries will always be popular because people like the suspense and surprise they achieve.

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