A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the character of Watson like?

    Watson is a doctor in the military; he served during the Second Afghan War but was wounded by a bullet in the shoulder and then contracted typhoid fever. Sent to convalesce in London, he prefers a quiet and solitary existence in the city where he knows no one. He possesses a keen intellect and is very rational. He is not particularly eccentric or strange; he may quite easily be classified as "normal." He is not prone to any bouts of depression and does not dabble in any drugs. He describes his flaws as owning a gun, objecting to loud altercations because his nerves are shattered from war, laziness, and keeping ungodly hours. He appreciates music and is up-to-date on current events. He is intrigued by Holmes and is very laudatory of the latter's skills. Above all, he is a calming, normalizing, stabilizing influence on the manic Holmes.

  2. 2

    What contributes to the easy relationship of Watson and Holmes, especially as Holmes does not get along with many people?

    Holmes is generally intolerant of other people's inability to reason from what they observe. He describes his own ability to "reason backwards" and laments that more people aren’t capable of this. He does not have too many friends due to his strange activities and oftentimes abrasive personality. However, Watson proves to be a worthwhile acquaintance for Holmes. The two men's idiosyncrasies complement each other. They do not interfere with the other's activities or work. They are intellectually compatible. Watson vocally approves of Holmes' incredible powers, which flatters the prideful Holmes. Watson enjoys observing people; Holmes enjoys being observed and is perfect fodder for such observation. Watson is game to accompany Holmes on his endeavors to solve the case and has a few helpful pieces of input. Overall, the two men get along because they respect each other, are intellectual equals, and balance each other's personality quirks.

  3. 3

    What are the shortcomings of Scotland Yard detectives, and why do they need Sherlock Holmes?

    While Holmes explains to Watson that Lestrade and Gregson are the best of the Scotland Yard detectives, the two men reveal themselves to be lacking in several ways throughout the investigation. They are both intelligent and energetic but are quite conventional; their rivalry amuses Holmes. Both suffer from an excess of pride and over-eagerness. They are quick to make conclusions on the evidence present, but these conclusions tend to be incorrect (Gregson's assertion that Arthur Charpentier is the murderer and Lestrade's belief that the word RACHE means Rachel are apposite examples). They form impressions of the case before the evidence is actually presented to them, something that Holmes does not practice. Holmes is necessary to the cases that Scotland Yard is called to deal with because he is able to draw the correct conclusions from the evidence without resorting to conjecture or speculation. All he needs are his powers of observation and immense wealth of collected knowledge.

  4. 4

    How are the Mormons depicted?

    The Mormons are depicted in an incredibly unflattering light. When John and Lucy Ferrier first encounter them, they are forced to convert to the faith in order for the caravan to save their lives. As Salt Lake City grows into a wealthy and populous Mormon city, the evils of the Latter Day Saint Elders become more prominent. They are intolerant of dissent and attempt to squash any differing opinions or perceived lack of commitment to the religion. There are rumors of murdered immigrants and women kidnapped and placed into the polygamous Mormon harems. The Danite band, called the Avenging Angels, terrorizes those who are considered traitors. A web of secrecy, deceit, and lies blankets the city. Spies pass along information to the Elders. Brigham Young, the Mormon chief, is a young and energetic man full of zeal, ambition, and brutality. He is intolerant of any challenges to the Mormon creed and threatens the Ferriers when it is revealed that Lucy plans on marrying a Gentile. His followers eventually murder John Ferrier and force Lucy into marriage with Enoch Drebber.

  5. 5

    What does this novel establish about Sherlock Holmes?

    As A Study in Scarlet is the first Sherlock Holmes tale, there are several important precedents set, both in terms of Holmes and Watson as characters and the plot devices. Watson is shown to be smart and stable, a reliable and helpful companion to the eccentric Holmes. He is the narrator for the stories. Holmes is established as a brilliant and enigmatic figures whose immense powers of observation and deductive reasoning assist him in the solving of crimes and other mysteries. He has a diverse but specialized ken; a love for music; frequent bouts of melancholy; and a vacillation between energy and lethargy, solemnity and excitement. Doyle's stories feature Holmes and Watson being presented with a seemingly-inscrutable mystery that Holmes is able to solve through his particular skills. They also feature contemporary political, philosophical, religious, and literary allusions; in this novel, for example, Doyle discusses Darwin's theory of music.

  6. 6

    How does this novel exemplify the tensions present in late 19th century London?

    In the late 19th century, London was a populous city characterized by labyrinthine streets, extreme disparities between rich and poor, tensions between modernity and traditionalism, and a growing concern with the proliferation of anonymous crime. London was the seat of the British government, which at this time was concerned with its colonial endeavors abroad and the threat of socialist ideas at home. Doyle addresses all of these themes within his novel. Colonialism is alluded to in the strangeness of the Mormons and the threat they represent to the State. Socialism is mentioned as a possible cause for the murder of Drebber, as articulated in one of the newspapers. The police are ineffectual in the face of such an anonymous and puzzling crime. London is a vast metropolis where crimes are easily committed because the murderer can simply blend right back into the hidden streets and blank-windowed houses packed closely together. Holmes represents the confluence of rational modernism and enchantment/romanticism. Doyle's work brings to life what the realities of late 19th century London life were.

  7. 7

    What is the symbolism of blood and the word "RACHE?"

    The word RACHE is written on the wall in blood; in German, the word means "revenge" and is thus indicative of the rationale for the murders of Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson. Jefferson Hope has spent his life seeking this end for the murderers of his beloved Lucy and her father, although his actual writing of this on the wall was intended more as a joke and a blind for the police. Blood is indeed a constant presence in the novel. When Watson first encounters Holmes, the latter is exulting over the "Sherlock Holmes test," a method he invented for testing blood to learn how old it is. Blood here is conceived very scientifically; it is a valuable resource for forensic scientists to eventually determine certain facts of the case and perhaps exonerate suspects. Jefferson Hope's bloody nose which he uses to write the word on the wall allowed Holmes to very pragmatically deduce that Hope had a florid face. Of course, blood is not connotation-free. It is very symbolic and poetic, adding to the mystery and intrigue of the case. The word in blood on the wall sends a thrill through the reader as they contemplate the various grotesque ways in which it could have been written there. Blood is thus a tool for criminal investigation but also an effective symbol for violence and passion.

  8. 8

    What do Holmes' artistic interests suggest about his character?

    Watson devotes himself to observing Holmes in the early days of their living together. He notes that Holmes is an accomplished violin player, but that this activity smacked of the same eccentricity of his other endeavors. He used the violin as an extension of his current thoughts, sometimes playing upbeat and cheerful strains of music, other times preferring melancholy notes. He attended concerts and expatiated on Darwin's theory of music to Watson, ruminating on how the capacity to create and appreciate music existed before the human development of language and thus influenced said development. Holmes does not indulge in literature or philosophy; it seems as if this would be unnecessary and irrelevant. His only literary pursuit is in the genre of sensationalist literature. Above all, the assessment of Holmes' artistic interests is somewhat contradictory, for it might be easy to conclude that he is only interested in things of practical value if it were not for his interest in music. This musical affinity is no doubt related to his somewhat unbalanced, manic personality; it touches some chord deep within him (as Darwin expostulated).

  9. 9

    What are the major clues that help Holmes solve this case?

    Holmes notes the tracks outside the house, which reveal that a cab was there and brought two men; the footprints, which the amount and heights of the men; the word RACHE, which was a blind for the police; the ring, which lured the man and showed that the case was probably about love; the drunk man; the information he received from Cleveland that gave the name of Jefferson Hope as a past rival in love for Drebber; the poison pills; the fact that the cab driver had to be Jefferson Hope because the same man drove the cab and went into the house and thus had to be the murderer; and the street boys' location of Hope. Holmes discovered these things through close observation of the crime scene, the wiring of information from Cleveland, and some aid from the other people involved in the case. He is able to save an innocent man -Arthur Charpentier -from jail, and secure the actual imprisonment of Jefferson Hope.

  10. 10

    How is Holmes like Edgar Allen Poe's Dupin?

    C. Auguste Dupin was the creation of Edgar Allen Poe in his short story, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," often considered the first detective story. Holmes scoffed at Watson's comparison of himself and Dupin, but the two men possess certain similarities. Doyle was undoubtedly influenced by Poe's creation, even writing once that "each [of Poe's detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed... Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?" Both detectives were brilliant analytic observers, able to deduce amazingly detailed pieces of information from putatively scanty evidence. Both of their tales were narrated by friends. There were some differences, however. Dupin did not consider himself a professional detective and his motivations were somewhat different from case to case. Holmes criticized his pretentiousness, although this is somewhat ironic given his own personal penchant for arrogance. Dupin is widely viewed as the model for Holmes.