Themes and Characters

Sherlock Holmes is a private investigator who operates out of his rooms at 221B Baker Street in London, England. Well-to-do, he takes only the cases that interest him. He is high-strung and restless, and, although he finds a creative emotional outlet in playing the violin, it is often not enough to amuse his troubled mind when he is not on a case. He then injects himself with cocaine. It takes years for his associate, Dr. Watson, to wean him away from his addiction but Watson is ultimately successful.

Holmes is tall and obsessively clean. His voice is “cold, incisive, ironical.” A brilliant thinker, his education is at once broad and narrow. For example, although he is able to identify different brands of tobacco at a sniff, he knows nothing about astronomy until Dr. Watson explains to him that the earth orbits the sun.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes displays his love of the chase; he is delighted at the opportunity to outwit the clever villain and foil his schemes. He is given to dramatic flair; he amazes listeners with his deductions from seemingly slight clues, and he enjoys disguising himself, as though he were an actor. For all his genius, however, he is fallible. In the stories, Professor Moriarty eludes him more than once, and sometimes he fails to adequately protect a client. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, he is at one point convinced that he has allowed the heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, to be killed. This element of uncertainty in Holmes’s character enhances the appeal of his stories by allowing for genuine suspense because he occasionally makes mistakes.

Dr. John Watson is a robust man of action. He meets Holmes when looking for lodgings after serving as a military physician in Afghanistan. His steady temperament balances Holmes’s own edgy one. As a physician, Watson’s skills often come in handy when people are injured. Intelligent enough to understand Holmes’s genius, robust enough to provide muscle when needed, courageous enough to follow Holmes into any adventure, and unswerving in his loyalty, he is an ideal companion for Holmes. It is Watson who narrates nearly all the tales of Holmes’s adventures. He asks the questions that readers want answered and often remains in the dark alongside the readers because of Holmes’s infuriating habit of keeping his plans secret until he has seen whether or not they will succeed.

Stapleton is a good example of Conan Doyle’s archfiends who prey on the innocent. He is introduced as an eccentric naturalist and a highly respected authority on insects. Of uncertain origin and ancestry, he is described as a “small, slim, clean-shaven, prim-faced man, flaxen-haired and lean-jawed, between thirty and forty years of age.” Physically unimpressive, he seems too frail and too naive to be a villain, but his mind is a keen one. He has plotted carefully, using the legend about a curse on the Baskervilles to further his devious designs.

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