The Engineer’s Finger by Arthur Conan Doyle

The following sample essay discusses “The Engineer’s Finger” from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series. Read the introduction, body and conclusion of the essay, scroll down.

The setting for “The Engineer’s Thumb” is also a secluded house in the dead of night. Again this helps add to the tense atmosphere, as the night is thought to heighten emotions. During the night it is harder to see, and many perceive this as potentially dangerous. Colonel Lysander Stark specifically requests that Hatherly come in the middle of the night so that he was not seen.

Along with the fact that they did not want their money scam to be discovered by an engineer coming to the house, this would also be the ideal time for them to commit a murder if need be as, just like in ‘The Speckled Band’, nobody would be around to help the victim or hear the crime come to pass. The fact that when they walk into the house it is pitch black makes us feel tense, as the colonel could do anything he pleased to the young engineer at this point.

The hysterical woman that tries to help the engineer before his ordeal even starts, puts us the reader on edge, as she would not be in the frightful state that she is in, if she did not fear something terrible. Consequently we fear something terrible is going to happen, hence suspense is created. In both stories the major and most dramatic moments occur during the night, in remote locations.

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Personally I felt that the description of the setting and atmosphere was more intense in ‘The Speckled Band’, especially when Helen Stoner was describing her sister’s death.

There are also other aspects, which I felt added to the suspense through creating setting and atmosphere. Throughout both stories when tension is at its utmost, Conan Doyle employs other effective uses of language and techniques. One that I noticed he used particularly frequently when tensions were high, was alliteration. “I sprang from my bed, wrapped a shawl round me, and rushed into the corridor. ” Conan Doyle used this technique at almost every period when tension was high.

A further example of this from ‘The Engineer’s Thumb, is when the young woman attempts to warn the engineer of the dangers he is about to face. “She held up one shaking finger to warn me to be silent, and she shot a few words of broken English at me”. Throughout both stories Doyle uses a great deal of alliteration and in my opinion it is one of the most effective literary techniques to heighten tension and suspense. As the reader, it really puts you on edge, as the words sound sharper and more intense.

The language Watson uses to describe the state and physical appearance of Helen Stoner helps to create mystery and suspense. She is fairly young, however the description we are given of her, suggests she has been through some terrible ordeal. “Her face was all drawn and gray, with restless, frightened eyes”. This description adds suspense to the story as we are concerned for her and are anxious to find out what has troubled this young woman so terribly. Doyle also uses a simile in which he compares her to, “some hunted animal.

” Helen Stoner’s physical description reflects her emotional state. From her appearance Watson and Holmes could clearly see that she was “in a pitiable state of agitation”. She acts in a melodramatic manner, which I personally felt was too over-the-top. Dr Roylott’s character is one that verges on “mania”. We are aware almost from the beginning that Roylott is the villain. His physical description again mirrors his emotional state. The portrayal that Watson relays to the reader when Roylott visits them is vivid.

He is described as a “huge man” dressed in the “peculiar mixture” of “professional” and “agricultural” clothes. This is a strange combination, however Roylott is a very atypical man. We are told that he is “marked with every evil passion” and this alone is a particularly large clue as to the fact that he is clearly the villain. Previously we have learnt that Roylott “beat his native butler to death” so he is obviously a very volatile man. This kind of remark adds to the sense of suspense, as we know that a young woman has to live alone with this man who is “uncontrollable in his anger.

” He is a doctor and intelligent man, but the Victorians see him as the villain and quite possibly blame his “mania” on his long stay in the tropics. “Indians are bound to lead him into bad habits. ” He has become a recluse and therefore a social outcast. This makes him, therefore, the perfect person to play a villain in a Victorian short story. Victor Hatherly is the victim in ‘The Engineer’s Thumb’. This is obvious from his horrific injury and the fact that he is not quite stable. When he meets Watson he breaks out into an “hysterical outburst” which, according to Holmes, comes when some great crisis is over.

This comment creates a sense of mystery as we want to know what has happened to this man, and also suspense as it must have been something terrible to get him into the state he is in. He is young, lives completely alone and is fairly new to owning his own business. Therefore he could be seen as vulnerable. Obviously the colonel adopted this attitude as he deceived him, and managed to get the young man to work for him even though the conditions he was offered were very suspicious. The character of the Colonel Lysander Stark is an obvious choice for that of the villain.

As is already apparent, villains in Victorian stories were played by social outcasts, people who were not from within our own society. One is at once reminded of a stereotypical colonel, a cruel harsh person with militaristic cruelty at heart. He is depicted as a model villain. He has a German accent, which was, and still is, a very common nationality for stereotypical villains of stories such as this. The engineer describes him as “a man rather over middle size” just like Roylott. Conan Doyle creates stereotypical characters.

The people who visit Sherlock Holmes are always clearly the victims of crime. This can be determined by the melodramatic manner with which they act and from the vivid descriptions of the way they look. Both Helen Stoner and Victor Hatherly could be perceived as vulnerable people, as Helen is a young woman living with a daunting stepfather, and Victor is a young man with not a lot of experience living alone. The melodramatic manner with which they act is epitomized well here. Helen Stoner, in ‘The Speckled Band’ explains that it is not cold which makes her shiver, but “fear, Mr Holmes it is terror.

” Similarly when Victor Hatherly in ‘The Engineer’s Thumb’ first convenes with Watson he breaks into a ‘hysterical outburst. ‘ Conan Doyle exaggerates physical characteristics to heighten the sense of battle between good and evil, as is typical of Victorian short stories. Conan Doyle also uses the characters’ physical appearance to emphasise their emotional state. Helen Stoner’s hair has gone prematurely grey, and Conan Doyle compares her “restless, frightened eyes,” to “some hunted animal. ” This simile adds suspense as we are reminded that Roylott is trying to kill her.

Personally, I thought this aspect of the story was a little predictable, however I felt that this was maybe a good thing as it meant the readers had something to go on when trying to deduct their own conclusions from the story. Similarly, the villains are clear from the outset and obvious outsiders. In both stories they are large men who do not seem to be vulnerable in anyway. Again the emotional state is emphasised by their appearance, but I felt this was more so ‘The Speckled band’. In ‘The Speckled Band’ we learn a great deal about Dr Roylott from Helen Stoner, and then he visits Holmes and Watson.

It is very clear that he is of a volatile nature, and has an uncontrollable temper. However in ‘The Engineer’s Thumb’ the colonel is a bit of an unknown quantity. All we really learn about him is that he is tall and “of an exceeding thinness”. Obviously we are aware that he has something to hide, as he is very “suspicious and questioning”. During Helen Stoner’s account in ‘The Speckled Band’ she tells Holmes that on the nights leading up to her sisters death Julia, her sister, heard a whistling sound at about three in the morning, and on the night of her death she too heard it followed by some metallic sound.

This sort of detail helps build up a sense of mystery and encourages the reader to read on, because it is obvious that we are being given clues. We want to know what happened to this poor girl, but we also want to be the one who discovers the cause of her death. There are various other details that also build up the mystery in Helen’s account such as the fact that Julia had locked her door but when Helen heard her scream and went to help the door was unlocked. Although this detail creates a deeper sense of mystery it also acts as a small decoy as to the actual cause of Julia’s death.

The fact that as Julia is dying she stabs her finger towards Roylott’s room and screams “Oh my God! Helen! It was the band! The Speckled band! ” This more than anything creates mystery, as we all want to know what this ‘speckled band’ is and how it could possibly have played a part in this woman’s death. When Holmes visits Stoke Moran in ‘The Speckled Band’ to find some clues that will help with the investigation of this murder, he makes some strange observations. In my opinion these observations add to the suspense the reader feels.

The first of these is that Helen seems to have had to move rooms for no apparent reason. Although Roylott tells her it is because repair work is being done, there does not appear to be anything to repair and there are no workmen around. In Julia’s former room Holmes discovers that the modern looking bell pull, which already appears to be out of place amongst the other more antique furniture, is actually fake. Secondly he notices that these is a ventilator that provides a connection between Dr Roylott’s room and the room Helen is now sleeping in, the murder scene.

Holmes appears to be perplexed as he rightly says, “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. ” The fake bell pull was connected to a hook just above the ventilator and the tassel at the end of the rope lay on top of the pillow on Julia’s old, Helen’s new bed. A further abnormal characteristic about the room was the fact that the bed was clamped to the floor and therefore always remained in that same position and was always in the same place in relation to the bell pull and ventilator.

Then when the company of Helen Holmes and Watson move into Roylott’s room Holmes makes some further interesting observations. There is a small saucer of milk in the room on, even though the only cat Roylott owns is a cheetah. Holmes also expresses an interest in a locked safe, a dog lash that was peculiarly tied and a chair. All these elements add suspense, as we are aware from these observations that her death was definitely deliberate. Suspense is created as we want to know why and how, we are also becoming aware at this point that Holmes has solved the mystery, and as the reader we want to do the same.

The story of ‘The Speckled Band’ is told through a variety of different people. Watson is the narrator, and is used by Doyle to relay all the information Holmes discovers to the reader. However there is a large portion where Helen Stoner is the storyteller. In ‘The Engineer’s Thumb’ Watson keeps his role as the narrator, but the bulk of the story is the engineer explaining his ordeal. Both stories are similar in this way with the victims of crime telling a large bulk of the story through explaining to Holmes and Watson. Personally I found it quite unusual to read a complex story with so much speech.

At the end of ‘The Speckled Band’ Holmes and Watson enter Stoke Moran. Their journey across the grounds was full of trepidation as they were reminded, by the sight or Dr Roylott’s baboon, of the cheetah that was also roaming at liberty. When they finally found themselves in the room Helen was supposed to be sleeping in they sat silently wide-awake, as the slightest sound could jeopardise the whole plan, and falling asleep could endanger their lives. This point in the story is riddled with suspense as both Holmes and Watson sit in a “state of nervous tension”. As the reader, we anticipate the intense excitement that is to ensue.

The climax of the story occurs when Dr Roylott once again tries to murder his stepdaughter by standing on a chair and putting the poisonous snake through the ventilator so that it could crawl down the bell rope and bite Helen Stoner. However unknown to Dr Roylott, Watson and Holmes, who were anticipating this attack, are waiting. As the snake slithers down the bell-pull, Holmes launches his assault as he “lashed furiously with his cane at the bell-pull”. All this action that is taking place, unbeknown to Dr Roylott, is actually to culminate in his death, as the snake escapes from the fury of Holmes and returns to bite its master.

There is clearly a moral to this story, as Roylott eventually gets his comeuppance. This is typical of the Victorian morality as good always overcomes evil. As Holmes puts it, “Violence does, in truth, recoil upon the violent, and the schemer falls into the pit which he digs for another. ” Roylott was a murderer and therefore, in respect of Victorian morality, must die. Holmes states “In this way, I am no doubt indirectly responsible for Dr Grimesby Roylott’s death, and I cannot say that it is likely to weigh very heavily upon my conscience. ”

In the ‘The Engineer’s Thumb’ the ending is very different, as the facts evolve throughout the story. At the end of the Engineer’s narrative the Engineer finds out about the colonel’s money making scam. The colonel reacts badly to this and tries to kill him by locking him in the room where they press the money. The colonel then wickedly turns on the machine in an attempt to kill the young engineer, as we later find out he did to the previous engineer. Thankfully the engineer finds another door and escapes. Personally, I find this twist in the tale rather disappointing, as I think it is a rather easy way out for the author.

The hysterical woman tries to help him to escape by taking him to a room and assisting him in climbing out of the window. However the colonel tries to prevent his escape by trying to chop him to pieces with an axe. The engineer was quick enough to narrowly escape death but not quick enough to escape with his thumb. As he becomes aware of his gruesome injury, he faints in the bushes and wakes up by the railway station, to his surprise, as he was under the impression that he was twelve miles away and the colonel was trying to kill him.

Once he had finished his narrative, Holmes, Watson, the engineer and two police officers from Scotland Yard, went to try to locate the scene of the crime and the criminals involved. Holmes uses his deductive skills in concluding that, as the horse, which took the engineer to the colonel’s house, was fresh, it can’t have travelled twelve miles previously. Therefore he immediately locates the house, much to the astonishment of his companions. However the house is on fire as the lamp, which the engineer used to examine the machine, was not put out.

Unfortunately the occupants had already left, taking their fake money with them, but their machine was destroyed. Again there is clearly a moral to this story, i. e. that it is unacceptable to meddle in affairs, which you may suspect to be immoral or illegal. Holmes told the engineer that he had gained “experience” and he also had a certain degree of revenge on the criminals, as it was most probably his oil lamp that destroyed their house and money-laundering machine. Throughout both stories Arthur Conan Doyle creates mystery and suspense with a use of various techniques. He uses language to create character and atmosphere.

Doyle uses a combination of melodrama, vivid descriptions of atmosphere, setting and character along with language and various literary devices to build up a sense of mystery and suspense in both short stories. In conclusion, with his Holmes stories, Doyle did two things: he established the conventions of the detective story genre, and he achieved enormous popularity because the world and action of the stories reflected the values of their late Victorian audience. In each story good overcomes evil and this is vital for a popular short story in the Victorian era, as this reflected Victorian morality.

At the time Sherlock Holmes was introduced society was confident in its industrial and imperial force, valuing science and rationality. Everyone was conscious of a relentless improvement in all aspects of life stemming from the power and prosperity society was experiencing. Whatever problems threatened their society, including crime, could be solved by rational means. Holmes demonstrated this, and readers responded with a love for the character. This link, between the values of a society and the methods and values of its crime solvers, has endured in crime fiction ever since.

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The Engineer’s Finger by Arthur Conan Doyle. (2017, Oct 19). Retrieved from

The Engineer’s Finger by Arthur Conan Doyle
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