illustration of Sherlock Holmes in profile surrounded by various items from his many mysteries

The Best of Sherlock Holmes

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
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Analyze the characterization of Sherlock Holmes. How do we learn about him in the stories told about him? And what do we learn about him?

We learn much about Sherlock Holmes through his interactions with Watson and other characters. We learn that he is easily bored if he doesn't have intellectual stimulation, that he is highly observant, intelligent, and analytical, that he values reason over romance, that he can be arrogant about his extraordinary skills, and that he is well prepared in practical ways to solve the mysteries that come his way.

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Readers primarily learn about Sherlock Holmes through the lens of John Watson, friend, sidekick, and narrator of the Holmes mystery stories. Often, this characterization emerges through conversations the two men have.

For example, we learn in The Sign of the Four that Holmes has a cocaine habit after Watson brings...

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Readers primarily learn about Sherlock Holmes through the lens of John Watson, friend, sidekick, and narrator of the Holmes mystery stories. Often, this characterization emerges through conversations the two men have.

For example, we learn in The Sign of the Four that Holmes has a cocaine habit after Watson brings it up out of concern for his friend. Through their conversation about this substance, we learn that Holmes is easily bored without intellectual stimulation, so he uses cocaine to alleviate those feelings when he does not have an exciting or challenging case to pursue. Luckily in this instance, Miss Morstan shows up with a case worthy of Holmes's skills. We also see, through the action of this mystery, how well prepared Holmes is to solve a crime, having people in place all over London ready to help him out.

Through conversation with Watson, we get to see displayed some of Holmes's remarkable skills at observation and analysis. For instance, when Holmes asks Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles to analyze a walking stick, Watson's misinterpretation of it gives Holmes a chance to exhibit his skills. Likewise, in "The Red-Headed League," Jabez Wilson's inability to believe that Holmes can deduce all he does from a quick observation of his person leads Holmes to a detailed explanation of his method.

We see a darker side of Holmes from his interactions with Watson: Holmes can be arrogant, such as when he says that Watson's inability to analyze the walking stick is instructive to him, poking fun at and insulting his friend, who takes it all good-naturedly. Further, the contrast between Holmes and Watson on falling in love tells us a good deal about Holmes: he finds romantic love irrational, while Watson falls head over heels for Miss Morstan. Holmes's first and true love will always be solving complex intellectual puzzles. Watson, the ordinary, good natured man, becomes a foil to Holmes and helps highlight what sets the detective apart from the common run of humanity.

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