How it Happened by Arthur Conan Doyle

How it Happened - Arthur Conan DoyleIn How it Happened by Arthur Conan Doyle we have the theme of impulse, arrogance, control, class, loyalty and spiritualism. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises from the beginning of the story that the narrator is driven by impulse. There is a sense that though he knows it might be better for Perkins to drive the car he instead takes on the role. If anything the reader would not be wrong to suggest the possibility that the narrator is being arrogant and is inflated by his own sense of importance. The narrator wishes to be in control. Though he owns the car he has never driven it before and as such does not have the required experience to drive the car particularly at night. It might also be possible that Doyle is exploring the theme of class. The narrator is upper class and feels as though he knows better than Perkins who would be working class. What is also interesting about Perkins is the loyalty that he shows the narrator. Though he has the opportunity to jump from the car he decides instead to remain beside the narrator. Showing complete loyalty to the narrator. It is also noticeable that Perkins never questions the narrator when the car is speeding down the road. This may be important as Doyle could be again placing a spotlight on the subject of class. Perkins knows his place and it is not to question the narrator. Who ironically wants to be in control however can’t control the car.

Doyle’s use of a friendly tone throughout the story and in particular between the narrator and Stanley in many ways makes the ending of the story even more incredible. There is nothing in the story apart from the last line to suggest that the narrator is dead. Though as readers we expect an accident to happen the fact that the narrator is talking to Stanley calmly after the crash hoodwinks the reader somewhat. It may also be a case that Doyle through the narrator’s death is exploring the theme of spiritualism. If anything Doyle appears to be suggesting that there is life after death. It is also interesting that when the narrator describes how bad the crash has been to Stanley, Stanley smiles. This is unusual and would raise a red flag for most people however the narrator does not think anything of it. Instead he is content not to move. It is difficult to say if the narrator is in shock as he is dead but Doyle does attempt to give physical feeling to the narrator.

Which may be important as Doyle could be suggesting that though an individual might die they are still mind, body and soul which is very much the case when it comes to Stanley. Who the narrator can physically see.  It is also possible that Doyle is suggesting there is a place (possibly heaven) for those who have died and that they have the ability to return to earth and are only seen by those who have died. Hence the narrator being able to see Stanley. Stanley’s selection as the individual who tells the narrator he is dead is also interesting as Doyle seems to have picked someone from the narrator’s life who is amiable to the narrator. There is no sense of fear within the narrator despite having been in a car crash and killed. If anything the narrator is calm.

Which might be the point that Doyle is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that when an individual dies there is a sense of calmness. There is nothing to be afraid of. Something that is noticeable when Stanley touches the narrator’s shoulder. The feeling is described as being ‘inexpressibly soothing’ making the narrator feel ‘light and happy.’ It is also noticeable that the narrator despite being in a car crash and killed feels (or felt) no pain. Which may be Doyle’s way of suggesting that death itself is a painless affair. That when dead there is no pain. Pain in itself is something that is associated with the living. Something that is noticeable by the fact that Perkins’ leg is stuck underneath one of the wheels of the car and he is in pain. If anything there appears to be a sense of pleasure in death, not in dying, but in death. No longer does the body feel the pain it did when a person is alive. Also there appears to be no sense of guilt when an individual dies. The narrator for example does not feel any guilt about injuring Perkins in the car crash. Instead there is just feelings of happiness that many people would find unusual. Though only the dead may know how it feels to be dead. Doyle possibly asking the reader to re-examine their perception of death and what it may really mean. For the narrator there appears to have been a smooth and painless transition from living to being dead. Leaving the reader to assume that the narrator’s death was instant. There was no pain that many would associate with dying. The car crashed and the narrator appears to have been killed instantly.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "How it Happened by Arthur Conan Doyle." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 13 Sep. 2017. Web.


  • I feel as though the narrator is given preference by the writer, in that he is awarded a smooth transition to the afterlife, this in spite of the fact that he is responsible for Perkins’ pain and a possible life as a disabled person. The words ‘ I heard a cry of pain ,’ and ‘The weight is on him. Lift it easy’ give the impression that Perkins is injured badly Not surprisingly, the loyal chauffeur inquires about his master, once again neglecting his own welfare. The reader will recall that he had been given the opportunity to jump out of the car when he perceived they were in grave danger, but he had opted to stay by his master’s side. Immediately the narrator is whisked out of a dire situation he created. We see this in the line ‘ Stanley …his touch was inexpressibly soothing. I felt happy, in spite of all’ His death is instant and he does not have to go through any pain, like Perkins. Once again, the upper class have had an upper hand, whilst Perkins will have to do the best he can to heal and find another job; slog on , in other words.

  • The title itself grabs the reader’s attention. They would want to know how & what really did happen

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