One of the overarching ideas of most Sherlock Holmes stories, including “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” is that justice and goodness must triumph over evil and injustice. Doyle’s stories depict a straightforward division between good and evil, in which characters are generally not nuanced blends of both characteristics, but rather embodiments of either extreme. Through the triumph of the eminently good Holmes and Watson over the evil Dr. Roylott, Doyle suggests that justice is a natural condition of human life and that goodness or fairness will always prevail in the end.
More than a mere detective solving crimes, Holmes see himself as a conduit for justice. In this particular case, his ambition is less to make sure that whoever murdered Julia Stoner is caught and taken to court than it is to personally stop an inherently evil person from doing harm again. This is clear in his constant ruminations about the nature of justice and his personal concern for Helen’s safety. When Helen visits Holmes and Watson, for instance, she asks whether she can pay him at a later point for his detective services. “As to reward, my profession is its own reward,” he claims. This shows that Holmes is less concerned about any financial incentives than doing good in the world. Furthermore, during Helen’s explanation of her sister’s mysterious death, Holmes notices five small bruises on her wrist, left by the grip of Roylott’s fingers. When he tells her that she has been “cruelly used” by her stepfather, Helen tries to defend him by saying he just doesn’t understand his own strength. Holmes then stares pensively into the fire and the reader can see that he feels it is imperative for him to take up this case to ensure that Roylott does no further harm.
As much as Holmes’ intellect and ambition to do good propel him to solve crimes, Doyle seems to suggest that evildoers being brought to justice is a matter of fate. In Doyle’s cosmology, bad people are obviously bad, which contributes to the sense that they are fated for a downfall. When Dr. Roylott enters into Holmes and Watson’s apartment, for instance, he is made to appear inherently foreboding. His first name, Grimesby, is almost laughably dark and his appearance—so tall and broad that he fills the door frame, his face “seared with a thousand wrinkles, burned yellow with the sun, and marked with every evil passion”—makes it clear that he is the story’s villain. As a threat, Roylott takes the poker from the fireplace and bends it into a curve. Once he leaves, Holmes straightens the poker back out, as if to demonstrate that he will correct whatever wrong has been committed in the case.
Near the end of the story, when Roylott is killed by his own swamp adder (the murder weapon used against Julia, which he also attempted to use against Helen), Holmes is hardly surprised. “Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent,” he says, “and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another.” Therefore, despite Holmes’ dedication, intellect, and conviction that Helen was in grave danger without his services, Holmes also seems to believe that it is inevitable that Roylott would be brought down in the course of executing his nefarious scheme. In this light, Holmes’ detective work seems as though it is as much a matter of managing fate as it is an exercise in deductive reasoning
Doyle’s sense that evildoers are inevitably brought to justice is also reflected in Holmes’ easy conscience. In the final sentence of the story, Holmes tells Watson that he isn’t too concerned about his own role in the murderer’s death, despite that he is generally quite concerned by those who do bad things. “I am no doubt indirectly responsible for Dr. Grimesby Roylott’s death,” he says, “and I cannot say that it is likely to weigh very heavily upon my conscience.” In other words, Holmes believes that Roylott deserved this final punishment, since he brought it upon himself by hatching such an evil scheme.
Unlike many detectives, who are trying to use their deductive skills in an objective way so that they can catch a criminal, Holmes is clearly concerned with the moral balance in the universe and what he can do to preserve it. Although he is known for his scientific observational skills, Holmes frequently infuses his detective work with emotional and moral weight, as when he is clearly pained by the dark bruises that Roylott left on Helen’s wrist. In Doyle’s telling, there is almost a cautionary element to how the story ends, as though the moral of the story is that those who do wrong will inevitably have wrong done to them.
Fate and Justice ThemeTracker
Fate and Justice Quotes in The Adventure of the Speckled Band
…working as he did rather for the love of his art than for the acquirement of wealth, he refused to associate himself with any investigation which did not tend towards the unusual, and even the fantastic.
So tall was he that his hat actually brushed the cross bar of the doorway, and his breadth seemed to span it across from side to side. A large face, seared with a thousand wrinkles, burned yellow with the sun, and marked with every evil passion, was turned from one to the other of us, while his deep-set, bile-shot eyes, and his high, thin, fleshless nose, gave him somewhat the resemblance to a fierce old bird of prey.
He must guard himself, for he may find that there is someone more cunning than himself upon his track.
When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge.
“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.”