“The Adventure of the Speckled Band” is one of only four Sherlock Holmes stories that can be classified as a “locked-room mystery,” where a crime is committed in a closed-off and seemingly impenetrable room. The apparent isolation of the crime scene mirrors the setting and the lives of the story’s characters, who live together in a crumbling mansion without much contact with one another or with the outside world. However, the story distinguishes between true isolation and the belief that one is isolated. By making the Stoner sisters feel isolated, their stepfather Roylott psychologically manipulates them into feeling powerless. Their vulnerability, however, does not come from true isolation (either physical or emotional), since Julia is murdered because the locked room is not as sealed off as she believed, and Helen only saves herself from the same fate by seeking help from Holmes, which proves that she is not truly cut off from others. Therefore, Doyle emphasizes that a person who believes herself isolated becomes vulnerable, while those who are able to seek out connections between people (and recognize connections between clues) have the power to control their own destiny.
Doyle goes to great pains to establish that the circumstances of the characters’ lives make them feel isolated, and the story’s setting—the secluded Stoke Moran Manor—is the most isolating aspect of all, the ideal location for the elaborate murder at the story’s center. For one, to leave the manor and visit Holmes and Watson in London, Helen must take a long ride on a dog-cart and then a train from Leatherhead to Waterloo Station, which shows how difficult it is to escape the manor’s rural isolation and find sympathetic people who might be able to protect her from the dangers in the house. Furthermore, the mansion’s slight remove from the surrounding community in the town—whose residents fear Dr. Roylott’s unpredictably cruel behavior and stay out of his way whenever possible—makes it so there is no broad oversight of what develops there. In this sense, Doyle suggests that the remote setting is part of what enables Roylott to set up an elaborate murder involving a rare and poisonous swamp adder, a snake that would never be allowed in a more populated area.
The architectural layout of the crumbling Stoke Moran Manor is another part of the story’s general sense of isolation. As the formerly expansive mansion is in such bad decay, the inhabitable areas of the house have been reduced to only a portion of one wing, leaving all common areas and exterior space (which has both dangerous animals and supposedly fearsome gypsies wandering about) off limits. Therefore, the Stoner sisters are kept in relative seclusion from their immediate surroundings and have no interior spaces to encourage communal activities, as only bedrooms are left. Doyle also emphasizes that the bedrooms are particularly isolating: Helen tells Holmes and Watson that “[t]here is no communication between [the bedrooms],” and the sisters must keep their bedrooms shut like prison cells at night, as they are forced to shutter their windows and lock their doors to keep the wandering baboon and cheetah from entering as they sleep.
The sisters are cut off from one another and from the surrounding community by the location, layout, and dangers of the mansion, but they are also kept in a deeper form of isolation within their own home: psychological isolation. Roylott limits their lives to two rooms in the manor and tries to prevent them from seeing anyone besides their aunt (he is furious, for instance, that Helen goes to see Holmes without his permission). As a result, the twins are certain that they are alone and powerless, which is key to their vulnerability: neither one of them is able to consider that Julia’s bedroom might not be as isolated from the other rooms as it seems, despite abundant evidence otherwise (the smell of cigar smoke and the sound of a low whistle coming through the wall she shared with Roylott). Though they were free to come and go, Doyle shows the reader that the Stoner sisters had become mentally isolated in such a way that they became extra vulnerable to Roylott’s scheming.
Doyle, like his detective, is somewhat suspicious of country life and makes the inherent isolation of Surrey's rural landscape mirror the psychological isolation of the inhabitants at Stoke Moran. Separated from its surrounding community, the author seems to be saying, the crumbling mansion is the kind of place that would inevitably foster the devious behavior of a character like Roylott. Just as the isolated environment fostered Roylott’s behavior, it left the Stoner twins vulnerable to his machinations, but in reaching out to Holmes and Watson to help her solve the murder, Helen breaks her physical and psychological isolation and makes her first step to regaining some sense of agency over her life.
Isolation and Powerlessness ThemeTracker
Isolation and Powerlessness 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!”
The building was of grey, lichen-blotched stone, with a high central portion and two curving wings, like the claws of a crab, thrown out on each side. In one of these wings the windows were broken and blocked with wooden boards, while the roof was partly caved in, a picture of ruin.
There are one or two very singular points about this room. For example, what a fool a builder must be to open a ventilator into another room, when, with the same trouble, he might have communicated with the outside air!