How It Happened

How does Arthur Conan Doyle make moments of revelation or discovery particularly powerful in How It Happened?

In How It Happened, Arthur Conan Doyle carefully builds up the plot and presents the shocking revelation of the protagonist’s death in a powerful and compelling manner through a soliloquy.

The incredible moment of discovery in How It Happened occurs at the end of the story, when we discover that the protagonist has perished in the crash. As he talks to his friend Stanley in the aftermath of the crash, he realizes that Stanley has already died, and Stanley replies: ‘so are you.’ This anagnorisis- recognition of the character’s true identity (that is, an apparition)- shocks us.

However, it is not only the suddenness of the event that makes it a powerful moment, but also the build-up of tension throughout the beginning of the story. Doyle writes: ‘great, golden, roaring death’. The use of repetition and triplets emphasizes the seriousness of this situation, which heavily clashes with the joyful, light-hearted tone of the story- giving rise to a sense of contradiction and feeling that something will go wrong. The alliteration of ‘great, golden’ glorifies the protagonist, as if he is unafraid of death and even enjoying the idea of being a ‘majestic sight’. It lends tension to the atmosphere, as readers are anxious and agitated by the seemingly serious situation. The tension is exacerbated by the protagonist’s cavalier attitude towards the prospect of death- and his nonchalant tone suggests his pride and ridiculous self-confidence and ignorance. This tension, as well as the build-up of the plot, contributes heavily to the powerful effect of the discovery of his death later.

Throughout the story, the protagonist speaks with an affable and amiable tone, making the suddenness of his death very powerful and shocking. He speaks in first person, frequently saying ‘I’, talking about himself in light-hearted self-retrospection- making readers feel close and familiar with him. Writing in first person makes it more personal, emotional, and gripping- and readers become more emotionally invested in the story- the convivial, friendly tone through which Doyle imparts his story makes his death and unfortunate passing very surprising and affecting. At this moment of revelation, we feel somewhat of a pang of pity for the protagonist and perhaps a sense of injustice: all these emotions feed into the powerful impact of this incident.

However, as we come to the realization that the protagonist could have avoided this fate, our sympathy and pity for him morphs into angst and discontent. If the main character had not been as impulsive and arrogant as to try his new car out close to midnight- ‘No, I should like to try her’, the accident would likely have been avoided. He demonstrated a willful, hegemonic masculine pride as he feminized the car: ‘try her’, and also showed a defiance of Perkins as he rejected his offer of driving the car. Through this, the protagonist exhibits both gender and class divide- he tries to assert his own dominance of Perkins, which subsequently depicts the distinct indication of class and corresponding arrogance and ignorance of the upper class. The protagonist was at fault for the accident because of his overwhelming confidence, bringing across the very powerful message about the detrimental consequences of bourgeoisie supremacy.

Through the tone of the writing, and the nature of the message he is trying to bring across, Doyle makes the revelation of his protagonist’s death an extremely powerful and affecting one.

3 responses to “How It Happened

  1. This was extraordinary helpful. My English teacher assigned 9 of the short stories we have to analyze however, he never taught us how to analyze them. Thanks for the help

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