The Adventure of the Speckled Band


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Swamp Adder Symbol Icon

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

The The Adventure of the Speckled Band quotes below all refer to the symbol of Swamp Adder. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Exoticism Theme Icon
The Adventure of the Speckled Band Quotes

“Tell me, Helen,” said she, “have you ever heard anyone whistle in the dead of the night?”

Related Characters: Julia Stoner (speaker), Helen Stoner
Related Symbols: Swamp Adder
Page Number: 402
Explanation and Analysis:

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!”

Related Characters: Helen Stoner (speaker), Julia Stoner
Related Symbols: Swamp Adder
Page Number: 404
Explanation and Analysis:

“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.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), Dr. Grimesby Roylott
Related Symbols: Swamp Adder
Page Number: 421
Explanation and Analysis:
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Swamp Adder Symbol Timeline in The Adventure of the Speckled Band

The timeline below shows where the symbol Swamp Adder appears in The Adventure of the Speckled Band. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Adventure of the Speckled Band
Exoticism Theme Icon
Greed, Desperation, and Decline Theme Icon
Fate and Justice Theme Icon
...immediately remarks on the speckled bands around the snake’s skin and identifies it as a swamp adder , “the deadliest snake in India.” He notes that Roylott had likely died instantly from... (full context)