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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes


by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Theme of Cunning and Cleverness

The very first paragraph of the first story in this collection, "A Scandal in Bohemia," includes the following line: "[Holmes] was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen." Part of Sherlock Holmes's attraction, both for Watson as his narrator and for the readers, is the guy's superbly disciplined mind. Conan Doyle emphasizes Holmes's magnificent brain in many ways: he uses Watson's admiration to reinforce the reader's own. He gives Holmes lots of foils, including incompetent cops and the criminals he's hunting. And perhaps the best trick of all, Holmes frequently gets to show off his smarts by wowing his clients with how much he can guess about them just by looking at their outward appearances.

Questions About Cunning and Cleverness

  1. How does Conan Doyle's portrayal of Inspector Lestrade make Holmes look good in comparison? Why might the police as a group make a good foil for Holmes as a private consulting detective?
  2. Where do we see proof of Watson's intelligence? How might Watson's own intelligence influence our own appreciation of Holmes's brilliance?
  3. One of Holmes's favorite tricks is to give details about the lives of the people around him, which he discovers just by looking. What effect do these demonstrations of cleverness have on the folks around Holmes? What reasons might he have for this kind of performance of his intelligence?

Chew on This

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

As a detective working outside of official legal channels, Sherlock Holmes has more freedom than policemen like Inspector Lestrade to dispense justice directly (and as he sees fit) to the criminals he catches.

By making Watson a strong character in his own right, with both medical and literary proficiency, Conan Doyle makes Watson's admiration of Holmes's intelligence even more meaningful to the reader.

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