The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does Holmes interpret clues? How is this different from how others approach clues?

    Holmes is unique because he is capable of seeing unusual meanings for everyday objects. He looks to see what they might mean to someone else, rather than simply assuming that they only signify one thing. For example, whereas everyone else assumes that Sir Henry's boots go missing because an employee was incompetent, Holmes uses this seemingly insignificant detail to deduce that there is actually a hound involved. He imagines other possibilities. In other cases, Holmes looks for the markers humans have left on objects. An example of this would be the warning letter sent to Sir Henry; Holmes uses marks on it to deduce what newspaper it came from and that it was written by a woman. Overall, Holmes refuses to make assumptions, but rather considers what else any object can show to the discerning observer.

  2. 2

    How does Holmes use his imagination to solve crime? Use a specific example, and also contrast this use of the imagination to that of Watson.

    Holmes uses his imagination insofar as he conceives of more than one interpretation for any apparent fact. For example, he is the only one who pieces together that Stapleton and Miss Stapleton are actually married; though there was no explicit evidence of this connection, Holmes is willing to consider different explanations than simply the one they provide. Because he can imagine these possibilities, he is better able to deduce how various clues work together. Watson, on the other hand, is what Holmes call "a man of action." Though he is hardly a fool, he is less able to make imaginative leaps. For instance, when he observes Stapleton's intense opposition to a match between Sir Henry and Miss Stapleton, Watson acknowledges an oddity but does not consider seemingly bizarre possibilities, and hence does not discover what Holmes does.

  3. 3

    What is the effect and purpose of Watson's narration?

    Watson is important as a narrator for several reasons. First, as an intelligent man who can nevertheless come nowhere close to replicating Holmes's method, he provides even the clever reader a lens through which to appreciate Holmes's singular genius. Furthermore, Holmes remains distant and mysterious largely because he does not narrate his own tales. Holmes only shares his final process with Watson, which keeps many particulars of his imaginative method attractively ambiguous. Finally, in this novel in particular, Doyle is able to explore the case in two literal ways at once, by having Watson travel to Devonshire alone even while Holmes is secretly working in the background.

  4. 4

    How would you characterize the relationship between Watson and Holmes.

    Though ostensibly partners, Watson and Holmes have a much more multi-faceted relationship. Watson admires Holmes, and clearly yearns for the detective's approval. He is more than willing to do what Holmes asks of him, whether it be deducing facts about Dr. Mortimer from the walking stick, or traveling ahead to Devonshire. However, Holmes continues to treat Watson like a subordinate, most obviously when he does not reveal his true plan to Watson until the latter finds him out on the moor. Though Watson acknowledges this ill-treatment, his concerns are quickly quashed, suggesting overall not only that Holmes sees Watson as something of a student, but that Watson sees Holmes as more of a mentor than as a partner.

  5. 5

    What does this novel say about untrustworthy eyewitnesses?

    Most of the untrustworthy eyewitnesses in The Hound of the Baskervilles fail not because of ill intent, but because they let their emotions cloud their judgment. For instance, two of the novel's most trustworthy figures - Dr. Mortimer and Dr. Watson - are expected to be impartial observers of the events on the moor. As men of science, they should conceivably not fall prey to the anxieties produced by the old legend. However, both men eventually consider the legend as an explanation for events they cannot otherwise explain, largely because the atmosphere of the moor is so spooky. Therefore, the novel suggests that being a reasonable or honest man does not make one's observations trustworthy. Instead, an eyewitness can only be trusted if he is able to observe facts in themselves, not letting his emotional perspective interfere.

  6. 6

    How does the novel explore the conflict between rationalism and the occult?

    Arguably, this novel's case interests Holmes because it seems to so strongly suggest an occult explanation. Thus, it poses him a challenge: find a rational explanation for what would otherwise be attributed to the supernatural. Throughout the story, characters battle these two opposing forces. The hound is representative of a superstitious belief in evil. Even men of science - Dr. Mortimer and Dr. Watson - somewhat accept the occult explanations, both because they can find no scientific clues to the contrary and because the atmosphere of the moor evokes such conjectures. It is telling that Holmes, by remaining firmly convinced that there must be a rational explanation, eventually discovers that explanation, and even reveals what Stapleton did to make the hound seem so other-worldly. Thus, the novel overall reveals how humans have a tendency towards supernatural explanations, but suggests that we can remain firmly embedded in the rational if we have the strength of will to do so.

  7. 7

    How is criminality portrayed in this novel?

    In general, criminals are portrayed as inherently vicious in The Hound of the Baskervilles. There is not much suggestion that they can be reformed, which might seem a strange attitude for the modern reader. For instance, Selden is presented as a uniformly bad person. When Watson sees him, he describes the convict's face as resembling an animal. Even Mrs. Barrymore believes her brother is beyond reform. Further, Stapleton's evil is considered "hereditary," passed down from Hugo Baskerville. Though Doyle does give small indications that perhaps there are other approaches to criminality, his general assumption seems to align with that of his day: criminals are simply bad.

  8. 8

    What is the significance of Dr. Mortimer's walking stick?

    This object, the discussion of which comprises much of the first chapter, establishes many of the novel's themes. First, it allows Holmes to introduce the reader to his method of deduction, which is based on the assumption that humans leaves marks behind wherever they go. Secondly, it creates an important contrast between Watson and Holmes. Though Watson does well in examining the stick, Holmes easily outwits him with his own deduction. Though Watson has known Holmes for a long time, he remains unable to intuit like the detective can. Finally, it creates the novel's first suspenseful question: who is this Dr. Mortimer from the country, and what does he want from Holmes?

  9. 9

    How does the law play into the story?

    Though the issue of criminality is central to the entire story, it is only at the end of the novel that Holmes relies on actual legal action. This reticence to involve the law indicates several things. First, law requires firm evidence, not simply Holmes's brilliant deductions. Thus, Holmes has to wait until he can find firm proof of theories he has already proven to himself. Secondly, the delay suggests a certain ineptness on the law's part. The law cannot really catch a criminal until he has already committed his crime. The law's seeming inability or unwillingness to use methods like Holmes's means that it is always behind the ball. In this case, Holmes has to put Sir Henry in danger in order to prove his theory, suggesting that the official law faces a stumbling block towards protecting citizens.

  10. 10

    How does city life contrast with country life in this novel, especially in terms of solving crimes?

    Overall, the novel makes a clear distinction between city and country life: whereas the former allows for a rational mindset in the midst of a bustling populace, the latter evokes more supernatural beliefs because of the solitude. This distinction is also reflected in the way each locale affects crime-solving. The city's advantages involve the networks and directories which Holmes systematically uses to catch criminals. For example, he is easily able to track down the cab driver who was driving the bearded man, and can easily check the nearby hotels for evidence of Miss Stapleton's letter.

    However, Holmes moves the investigation to the moor precisely because there are fewer people, and less suspicions of wrongdoing. Because most people there accept the hound legend as somewhat true, he can more easily observe their behaviors and narrow down his suspects. However, country networks are informal, and hence more difficult to explore. For instance, Watson only finds Laura Lyons because Barrymore helps him.