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Themes

As the grand-pappy of the detective fiction genre, the Sherlock Holmes stories are filled with liars. Otherwise what would be the fun of solving anything? Suspects, victims, even random bystanders may be lying at any given time. And Holmes himself frequently uses disguises, tricks, and misdirection to solve cases. He's like an illusionist, without the snazzy cape. What's notable is that lies and deceit never derail Holmes. Truth always triumphs in the end. In a scene repeated in every detective show ever, everyone always stands around at the end confessing/explaining everything about the case. The Sherlock Holmes stories suggest that truth can always win out in the end. But truth is not always welcome. In fact, the desire for privacy is a major thematic companion to Holmes's hunt for the truth. Balancing out the desire for the truth and the respect for certain secrets is a juggling act for Holmes and Watson.

Questions About Lies and Deceit

  1. In a number of cases, Sherlock Holmes agrees to keep the truth hidden or to keep secrets for people. Are there any common reasons in Holmes's decision to hide the truth on occasion? What do these instances tell us about who Holmes is and what he believes?
  2. Suspects always seem willing to spill the beans to Holmes, and many even give him an unasked for life narrative during there confession. What's the significance of this? Are there any stories here where a suspect isn't willing to talk to Holmes?
  3. Holmes faked his own death and then badly startled Watson with a dramatic "surprise, I'm not dead!" scene in the "Empty House." What does this sort of action reveal about Holmes's character? Does he see deception as a game?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Holmes has a flair for the dramatic and seems to enjoy deliberately startling people by revealing the truth in a dramatic fashion.

As much as Holmes pursues the truth, he also has a huge respect for people's privacy, which at times outweighs his commitment to upholding the law.

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