Study Guide

The Hound of the Baskervilles Isolation

By Arthur Conan Doyle


(Click the themes infographic to download.)

There are two kinds of isolation in The Hound of the Baskervilles: geographical and mental. We talk about geographical isolation in our theme "Contrasting Regions: The Moors and London." So what we've got left here is psychological isolation. We all need our space sometimes, but a lot of isolation isn't particularly healthy.

What makes a person feel psychologically isolated or alienated? Well, he or she could be in new and unfamiliar territory (Watson, Sir Henry); having to keep secrets (Holmes, the Barrymores, Stapleton); or feeling threatened (Sir Charles, Beryl, and Laura); And when you're feeling isolated from your friends and your community for whatever reason, it's easier for people to scare you.

Questions About Isolation

  1. Who would you say is the most isolated character in this novel? Is that isolation self-imposed, or does it come from some outside source? What effect does it have on this character to be so isolated? 
  2. How does Watson respond to Holmes' demands to be left alone to think? What explanations does Watson give for Holmes' need to be alone to think through his cases? 
  3. Being in a class by yourself (like Holmes) can be an isolating experience. (They say it's lonely at the top.) Which comes first—does being so unique make a person feel isolated? Or does being isolated give a person the chance to develop exceptional skills? 
  4. How does the theme of isolation in The Hound of the Baskervilles relate to the fact that this is a detective story? Is there something about the genre of the detective story that makes isolation a useful narrative tool?

Chew on This

While many of the characters in The Hound of the Baskervilles struggle with isolation, Conan Doyle represents Stapleton as the furthest outside a real social network. Stapleton's weak and broken relationships with others suggest that being a criminal is, by its nature, an isolating experience. Maybe that's why people might join a gang or look for a "partner in crime."

Holmes's self-imposed, intellectual isolation contrasts with the emotional loneliness of other characters like Watson and Sir Henry, emphasizing his intellectual approach to human relationships.

Physical isolation can lead to psychological isolation.

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