The Speckled Band, Lamb to the Slaughter

The following example essay on “The Speckled Band, Lamb to the Slaughter” is an analysis of the literary works of Arthur Conan Doyle and Roald Dahl. The essay reveals the plot of the novels and reveals the images of the main characters of the story.

Discuss to what extent the writer allows the reader to identify with the main character in each story. I am going to write about two stories from the detective genre. These stories are ‘The Speckled Band’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ by Roald Dahl.

‘The Speckled Band’ was written in 1888 and ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ was written in 1954. They are examples of stories linked by genre, but separated by time.

The detective genre is a specific style of writing and has always been popular with readers. Also, before Sherlock Holmes, the detective genre was just beginning, and Holmes helped to make it so popular. The Sherlock Holmes stories are among the most popular and well known detective stories and are read worldwide by people of all ages.

The detective genre is just as popular today, and there are thousands of authors writing detective stories, films and television programs.

I am going to discuss how much the writer allows the reader to identify with the main characters in both stories. There is an important difference in these stories in that in ‘The Speckled Band’, the main character is the detective, Sherlock Holmes, and in ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ the main character is the murderer, Mary Maloney.

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 I think that as a reader I identify slightly more with Mary Maloney than I do with Sherlock Holmes. This might however, have something to do with the fact that there are over 60 Sherlock Holmes stories, and perhaps you would get to know Holmes better if you had read all of them. For just this story though, I feel I know more about Mary Maloney.

Why do I identify more with this character? There are several reasons. Firstly, I think because at the beginning of the story, we are straight away told in detail about Mary’s feelings, and some of her background. We find out that she is married to a policeman, she is 6 months pregnant, and that she is a typical old-fashioned housewife and mother, waiting at home for her husband to come back from work.

This is a normal and respected thing at the time – this book is set in the 50’s – and we see that although she is perhaps a little dependant and doesn’t have much of a life of her own, she is nice enough and a likeable person. You feel quite close to her and the paragraph where we find out how she feels about her husband makes you realise that she really does love her husband, and you feel quite intimately involved with her.

It is almost like you are inside her mind, and throughout the story you can tell what she is thinking. It is like you have known her for a long time. Mary Maloney is presented to the reader as a normal, ordinary woman, who has a nice nature, is fairly placid and who worships her husband. The last person you would think would turn out to be a murderer.

When she kills her husband after finding out that he has been having an affair, you don’t immediately start to hate her – in fact I began to like her even more! When I read the part where she kills him I thought, ‘Good for you!’ I felt really sorry for her when I found out he was leaving her, and really disliked the husband, even though I didn’t know the whole story.

The part where Mary kills him, by hitting him over the head with a leg of lamb, was quite funny to read, although it was a serious thing happening, and I think that is one of the best aspects of the story – it’s not deadly serious the whole time, there is an undercurrent of dry humour and irony. It is an unusual detective story, because you are hoping that the detectives don’t solve the crime as you feel sorry for Mary and don’t want her to be put into jail.

The story is narrated in the third person, and not by Mary Maloney. However it is told through her eyes and from her point of view. This is quite unusual as most detective stories are told from the perspective of the detective. This method of story telling gives us an insight into Mary’s life without being too biased, as we don’t hear only her thoughts. Although we are quite biased anyway as we are on her side throughout the story!

I don’t identify with Sherlock Holmes as much as Mary Maloney for several reasons. Firstly, we see him from the outside – the story is told through the eyes of Watson, Holmes’s faithful friend. This distances us from Holmes, and indeed he is quite a distanced and solitary character, which does not help us to feel close to him. Watson is also the only significant relationship that we see Holmes having.

We are not told a great deal about what Sherlock Holmes feels throughout the story or about his background. Unlike Mary Maloney, we can hardly ever tell what Holmes is thinking – we have to be told his thoughts through him talking to Watson – and this also keeps us distanced from him. We can’t tell what Holmes is thinking because he has a superior mind to (most of) his readers and is very intelligent.

In spite of all this though, you do feel some empathy with Sherlock Holmes. He is a likeable person, and funny in a quiet and clever way. He is also surprising – for example when he displays great strength you would not expect him to have – when he bends back the poker that Dr. Roylott has just bent. This makes you realise even more how little we actually know about Sherlock Holmes. But we admire him for it and you cannot help liking Sherlock Holmes, even if you are not close to him or know every detail about his life.

The fact that we don’t know a lot about his past actually makes him more intriguing and mysterious, which I think is an excellent quality to have in a detective! It is a classic detective story, although you do spend more time thinking about how the murder happened, and not about who did it.

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The Speckled Band, Lamb to the Slaughter. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

The Speckled Band, Lamb to the Slaughter
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