As Julia Stoner was mysteriously dying in her sister’s arms, she said that what killed her was the “speckled band.” At the time, Helen Stoner did not understand what she meant, but later readers learn that the speckled band is the deadly swamp adder snake, with its “peculiar yellow band, with brownish speckles, which seemed to be bound tightly round his head.” Dr. Roylott used this trained snake to murder Julia, and the snake represents, in part, the exotic form of evil that Doyle is emphasizing throughout the story. Doyle peppers the story with orientalist elements—animals from India, exotic household objects, a band of gypsies—meant to evoke a sinister ambiance through their association with cultural otherness. Of all of these elements, the swamp adder, “the deadliest snake in India,” is the most potent, as it’s the one that actually proves deadly. The snake also represents Roylott’s own descent into evil—he goes from being the last living member of a noble Saxon family to a desperate eccentric willing to commit murder in order to save himself from an inevitable financial downfall. The fact that swamp adder, which Roylott trained and kept in a safe in his bedroom, ultimately ends up killing his master literalizes how extreme desperation can take over a person’s life.
Swamp Adder Quotes in The Adventure of the Speckled Band
“Tell me, Helen,” said she, “have you ever heard anyone whistle in the dead of the night?”
At first I thought that she had not recognised me, but as I bent over her she suddenly shrieked out in a voice which I shall never forget, “Oh, my God! Helen! It was the band! The speckled band!”
“It is a swamp adder!” cried Holmes; “the deadliest snake in India. He has died within ten seconds of being bitten. Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another.”