Compare The Speckled Band written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle With Lamb to the Slaughter written by Roald Dahl

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The two short stories that I am comparing are the pre- twentieth century story, ‘The Speckled Band’ written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1892 to the twentieth century story, ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ written by Roald Dahl in 1954. Both stories come from different periods and this is reflected in the writing, however both stories are of a detective genre. It is clear that both authors wrote for different audiences. Conan Doyle wrote for adults while Roald Dahl mainly wrote for the younger audience. I will compare the similarities and differences in plot, setting, characters, language used and ending.

The Speckled Band is based around a detective, Sherlock Holmes, who is one day visited by a woman, called Helen Stoner, ‘who insists upon seeing’ him very early one morning. She is in fear of her life and suspects that something is going to happen to her because she is about to be married and her sister was killed prior to her marriage. Lamb to the Slaughter is about a wife ‘six months with child’ who is told some news from her husband; we presume he has had an affair. She then kills her husband with a ‘frozen leg of lamb’ in a rage of anger.

She instantly realises what consequences her actions could have and does everything in her power to conceal the truth. The two stories are similar because they both have the same genre; they are both detective stories with murder involved. However the murders have many differences. Dr Roylott purposely killed Helen’s sister, he had planned it out and he was preparing to kill again, he had also ‘beat his nature butler to death. Dr Roylott is portrayed as being a violent man who indulged in ‘ferocious quarrels with whoever might cross his path’.

In contrast Mary Maloney initially appears to be a pleasant housewife with ‘a slow smiling air about her’. Mary Maloney didn’t intend to kill her husband either and had never killed anybody before. The stories are also set in different times. The Speckled Band is a pre-twentieth century story and Lamb to the Slaughter is a twentieth century story. The Speckled Band deals more with the investigation of the crime whereas Lamb to the Slaughter focus’s on the crime itself. I think this is because of the different attitudes to literature and crime.

In the Victorian times, when The Speckled band is set, crime was rife in London and it most of it was never solved. So the audience found it more appealing when the crime was solved. The period that Lamb to the slaughter was set in, murders were a lot more frequent, especially in the home, and the attitude to crime had changed. The main difference is that Sherlock Holmes solves the case in The Speckled Band and the case in Lamb to the Slaughter is not solved. The setting for the pre-twentieth century story The Speckled Band is based in two places. In Baker street, London and Stoke Moran in Surrey.

The Speckled band is set in Victorian England and the story reflects the time in history. For example the ‘dog-cart’ that Helen Stoner travelled in to get to London and the flickering gas lamps. The language such as ‘you are at liberty to defray’ gives an indication to the period in time of history because defray is only used in this present-day in court and isn’t used in everyday English language. The two stories have many similarities, however the setting for the twentieth century story Lamb to the Slaughter is a very cosy, pleasant suburban house and ‘the room was warm and clean’.

The story reflects what time the story was set. For example ‘the car door slamming’ which shows that they had a car and gives an idea of the time and ‘the deep freeze’ this indicates they had a freezer and a supply of electricity in the house. Sherlock Holmes’s house in Baker Street is where the fist part of the story is set. His house is Victorian and very organised. They had a coal fire which Mrs Hudson, the housekeeper, lit. Holmes says ‘Mrs Hudson has had the good sense to light the fire. ‘ Holmes has a housekeeper, Mrs Hudson, Watson says ‘Mrs Hudson has been knocked up, she resorted upon me. This indicates that he may be quite wealthy and has a certain class. Holmes’s house is a typical pre-twentieth century setting. Mary Maloney’s house is very similar to Holmes’s house. In both stories ‘mantelpieces’ are referred to. In The Speckled Band Dr Watson refers to it saying ‘as the clock on the mantelpiece showed me’ and in Lamb to the Slaughter it says ‘nearly nine she noticed by the clock on the mantel’. Both these quotes highlight the fact that both stories have timings in them. While The Speckled Band is set over a period of two days Lamb to the Slaughter is set in just one night.

I think that because it has timings in both stories it makes the stories more realistic to the audience. Stoke Moran in Surrey is where Helen Stoner and Dr Roylott live. Conan Doyle uses a simile to describe Stoke Moran, ‘two curving wings, like claws of a crab’ this makes the house sound forbidding and dangerous place to be. Stoke Moran is a very big place with many repairs needed to be done, for example ‘the windows were broken’ and ‘the roof was partly caved in’ illustrates that the house is old and had been neglected for some time.

Stoke Moran fits the criteria of a classic murder story but Mary Maloney’s house doesn’t. I think that the homely atmosphere helps to secure Mary’s alibi, it indicates that she is a pleasant housewife who loved her husband very much and was always trying to please him and she would not even consider killing her husband. The Speckled Band is predictive because of the clues given in the story and because Dr Roylott is a villain unlike Lamb to the Slaughter which is not predictive because the murderer is someone who we thought as being unable to commit such a crime.

Dr Roylott is the ‘terror of the village’; he is always starting brawls with the villagers. We know that this behaviour was very violent and he once ‘hurled the local blacksmith’. And at Sherlock Holmes’s house ‘he picked up the poker’ and he ‘bent it into a curve’. He is a very aggressive man who is very forthright and demanding. Dr Roylott has a great passion for Indian animals and at the house he keeps ‘a cheetah and a baboon, which wander freely over his grounds. Dr Watson though appears to be a very patient man who is very helpful. He has noteworthy respect for Sherlock Holmes and his work.

Dr Roylott and Dr Watson have very different characters and they have no similarities to each other and they are also both different kinds of doctors. Helen Stoner’s appearance is described in The Speckled Band as ‘her hair was shot with premature grey’ and her face was described as ‘weary and haggard’ as well as ‘all drawn and grey’. There is a great difference between Helen Stoner’s and Mary Maloney’s, from Lamb to the Slaughter, appearance. Mary Maloney’s face has ‘a wonderful translucent quality’ and her eyes have a ‘new placid look’. Both stories describe both the characters appearance in a lot of detail.

Helen Stoner is in fear of her life and she was in a ‘pitiable state of agitation’ when she arrived at Sherlock Holmes’s house. While Mary Maloney would ‘glance up at the clock’ waiting for Patrick to return home from work ‘without anxiety’. These quotes highlight that Helen is very tense and scared and Mary is a very calm and relaxed person. Sherlock Holmes is a very thorough detective and pays great attention to detail and this is shown throughout The Speckled Band. For example he noticed that Helen Stoner had travelled in a dogcart because her jacket was ‘splattered with mud’ and ‘the marks are perfectly fresh’.

Sherlock Holmes had never met Helen Stoner or any of her family including Dr Roylett before. However Jack Noonan knew Mary and Patrick Maloney on a very well. Patrick worked with Jack Noonan in the police force. This could of affected the way the case was handled and could of helped eliminate some of the suspects. Because Noonan knew Mary on a personal basis it could of affected the way she was eliminated from being a suspect. He obviously thought of her as the kind of person who wouldn’t even consider to comet such a crime and that she had no reason to do so anyway.

Jack Noonan is not as thorough as Holmes and doesn’t think about all the possible murderers unlike Holmes and he makes false assumptions. The two detectives also give an idea of the time in history both stories were set. Sherlock Holmes is a dated detective with morals and determination compared to Jack Noonan who is a typical twentieth century detective and he doesn’t seem to have the same passion for the job, which Homes does have. Dr Roylott is a very vicious and strong man, Helen Stoner says ‘he hardly knows his own strength’.

Dr Roylott can be described as a stereotypical murderer and villain and he is a very obvious suspect from the beginning of the story. This could be one reason why The Speckled Band is more predictive than Lamb to the Slaughter. In contrast Mary Maloney is portrayed as the weak, innocent housewife who is pregnant with her husbands child. This image of her gives no reason to the audience to believe that she could commit such a crime or that she had any reason for wanting to. Also another difference between the two is that Dr Roylott is male and Mary Maloney is female.

It is quite surprising to have a female killer in either of these stories, although it was more common in the twentieth century and it could be just a sign of the time. Patrick Maloney and Helen Stoner are both victims in the two stories. Patrick lost his life and Helen lost her mother and sister and was in fear of her own life as well. Helen’s physical appearance is described in great detail in The Speckled Band whereas in the Lamb to the Slaughter Patrick’s appearance before he is murdered is not described at all, it is left to the readers imaginations.

The language used by the characters in both stories is very different. Sherlock Holmes’s speeches come across very clearly, they are very effective. Holmes always says the right thing at the right time and he reassured Helen when she came to his house, saying ‘you must not fear’. The always says the right things and he would have been the Victorian ideal or icon of a gallant gentleman. In contrast Mary used language differently. After she had murdered Patrick she used conversation to her advantage, she used it as a tool. She used it as a way of manipulating the detectives and establishing her alibi.

For example, when she went to Sam’s grocers she said, ‘Patrick’s decided he’s tired and doesn’t want to go out tonight’. This is a lie and she used it to establish her alibi. Another example is when the detectives were at her house and jack Noonan reminded her about the meat that was still in the oven she reacted by saying ‘Oh dear me! So it is’ she is pretending that she had forgotten it was there. She uses emotive language. The semantic field for The Speckled Band is very complicated language and takes a long time before the reader can work out what is happening.

Conan Doyle’s description of Dr Roylott and Stoke Moran are interspersing with detail of Dr Roylott’s previous life in India, which make the story even more complicated. In contrast the semantic field for Lamb to the Slaughter is mainly detective language such as ‘murder’, ‘fingerprints’ and ‘policeman’. Lamb to the Slaughter also refers to Mary and Patrick Maloney’s house as being very homely, the household is described very carefully as though it is too good to be true. The Speckled Band is very complicated and many words are polysyllabic such as ‘bewilderment’ and ‘uncontrollable’.

In contrast to this the language used in Lamb to the Slaughter is a lot simpler and many words are monosyllabic such as ‘the room was warm and clean’. As well as this The Speckled Band uses subordinate clauses where many commas are used in one sentence to give a longer sentence. For example when Helen Stoner is giving background information on her stepfather to Sherlock Homes she has a sentence which is nine lines long and uses seven commas. Lamb to the Slaughter uses much simpler sentence construction. The language in both stories often reflects the stories date.

The Speckled Band often uses dated language such as ‘aperture’ and ‘gaiters’. This highlights the fact that this is a pre- twentieth century story. However Lamb to the Slaughter uses more modern language such as ‘thermos bucket’, which highlights the fact that this is a twentieth century story. The uses of similes and metaphors are apparent in both stories. However The Speckled Band uses similes more, for example ‘frightened eyes, like those of some hunted animal’ and Lamb to the Slaughter uses metaphors more. The Speckled Band is a very serious affair all the way through and it is mean to be taken seriously.

An example where the language reflects this is when Helen Stoner leaves Baker street to return back to Stoke Moran and Dr Watson says ‘it seems to be a most dark and sinister business’ this is a very ominous and serious sentence. Lamb to the Slaughter is not a serious story and in parts we find ourselves smiling or laughing. This occurs mainly at the end of the story where Mary is pretending she knows nothing about the murder and right at the end of the sentence where one of the policemen referring to the murder weapon says ‘Probably right under our noses’.

Roald Dahl makes us have this reaction because we know that Mary is the murderer and she has got away with it even though the evidence is very obvious but the police are completely oblivious to all of this. At the end of The Speckled Band the venom of the snake kills Dr Roylott when he was bitten while he was attempting to kill Helen Stoner. At the end of Lamb to the Slaughter the police eat the evidence and Mary is not suspected of killing her husband. The Speckled Band is the story with the twist in the tale.

Initially I thought that Dr Roylott would be found out and be put in jail but instead he is killed by his own snake and as Holmes says ‘ Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another’. The effect that it has on the reader when the story doesn’t end the way you expect is that they enjoy it more because it isn’t as predictive. The title The Speckled Band fits in with the pre-twentieth century. The Speckled Band is something that is actually in the story, but it is not discovered what it is until the end.

The title Lamb to the Slaughter is a biblical term, it tells you what is going to happen. The title means two things. It means that Patrick was slaughtered by the lamb because he was hit over the head with the lamb and it also means that the detectives are the Lamb to the Slaughter because they eat the lamb, which is evidence. I enjoyed The Speckled Band more because you can try to solve the crime as you read it. I found The Speckled Band more appealing, it is also more compelling because it was a more complicated story with many possibilities.

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