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The Hound of the Baskervilles

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
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What literary techniques does Doyle use in The Hound of the Baskervilles?

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Doyle uses literary techniques such as first-person narration, dialogue, Gothic elements, and imagery to produce a chilling and compelling story, to highlight themes, and to characterize major figures.

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Among the most important literary techniques used in the novel are Watson's first-person narration, which highlights Holmes's genius and allows Doyle to mislead the leader as Watson himself is mislead. For example, when Watson reveals his astonishment that Holmes knows he has been at his club all day, Holmes showcases...

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Among the most important literary techniques used in the novel are Watson's first-person narration, which highlights Holmes's genius and allows Doyle to mislead the leader as Watson himself is mislead. For example, when Watson reveals his astonishment that Holmes knows he has been at his club all day, Holmes showcases his skills as he is able to explain how elementary it all is to determine Watson's location:

He laughed at my bewildered expression. “There is a delightful freshness about you, Watson, which makes it a pleasure to exercise any small powers which I possess at your expense. A gentleman goes forth on a showery and miry day. He returns immaculate in the evening with the gloss still on his hat and his boots. He has been a fixture therefore all day. He is not a man with intimate friends. Where, then, could he have been?

By following Watson's limited train of thought, readers are also limited—until Doyle wants us to know the truth.

A second literary technique is the use of Gothic elements to lend credibility to the superstitious ideas in the story before they are firmly debunked by rationalism. For example, Dr. Mortimer uses imagery and allusion—a reference to the legendary "hell-hound"—to covey the supernatural appearance of the hound as reported by local people as seen on the moor:

They all agreed that it was a huge creature, luminous, ghastly, and spectral. I have cross-examined these men, one of them a hard-headed countryman, one a farrier, and one a moorland farmer, who all tell the same story of this dreadful apparition, exactly corresponding to the hell-hound of the legend.

Doyle also uses the literary technique of dialogue to make his points. Dialogue is heavily employed in this novel to convey information, display Holmes's talents at deduction, weave in imagery, and to characterize characters. Two examples follow. First, the Gothic or supernatural elements of the novel are highlighted when, in conversation with Holmes, even the rationally trained Dr. Mortimer doesn't know whether or not the Baskerville is an apparition:

And you, a trained man of science, believe it to be supernatural?

I do not know what to believe.

Second, Holmes is characterized as more than a mere automaton as he describes his mental "trip" to Devonshire. He speaks of the divorce between his body and his mind with a likable whimsy:

My body has remained in this armchair and has, I regret to observe, consumed in my absence two large pots of coffee and an incredible amount of tobacco. After you left I sent down to Stamford’s for the Ordnance map of this portion of the moor, and my spirit has hovered over it all day. I flatter myself that I could find my way about.

Watson is also characterized in his dialogue. He ignores the whimsy and focuses on the literal:

A large-scale map, I presume?

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The first literary technique apparent in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is the use of a first-person narrator; it is Dr. John Watson, the sidekick of Sherlock Holmes. Readers understand the story through his eyes as he takes part in Holmes's investigations, and readers' perceptions of Holmes are shaped through Watson's thoughts, feelings, and interactions.

Doyle also uses humor; in the opening scene, Watson does not realize that Holmes can see in the reflection of a silver-plated coffee pot that Watson is studying Dr. Mortimer's stick, and so he asks Holmes if he has "eyes in the back of [his] head."

Through imagery, dialogue among characters, and description, the case unfolds and readers are able to follow the story's action.

Doyle creates, in addition to the overall plot, numerous subplots including those of Selden and the other unknown person who live on the moor, the apparent curse, and the story that Watson is telling in addition to the ultimately hidden plot that Holmes reveals.

Holmes and Watson can be thought of as co-protagonists while Jack Stapleton is the antagonist.

Sometimes the narrative departs from Watson's ongoing point of view and switches to his diary entries and letters about the incidents.

The settings of the story are book-ended by 221b Baker Street, but also include the mysterious moors Baskerville Hall and Merripit House.

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Some of the techniques used by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in The Hound of the Baskervilles include first person narration, foreshadowing, Gothic setting, red herrings, irony, symbolism, and foils. As usual in Sherlock Holmes stories, Dr. Watson is the first person narrator. This allows Doyle to unfold the story in a way that gives the reader glimpses into clues without divulging everything the detective knows. This story is unusual in the Holmes canon in that Watson is on his own for several chapters, representing weeks, without any appearance of Holmes.

Foreshadowing occurs with each of the clues in the mystery, including the warning note, the warning from Miss Stapleton, the howling on the moor, and the suspicious behavior of the Barrymores. Another instance of foreshadowing is the sinking of moor ponies in the Grimpen mire, which foreshadows the ultimate end of Mr. Stapleton.

The book uses a Gothic setting including the lonely, dangerous moor; the dark, foggy night; the isolated mansion; howls heard at night; the legend of the curse of the Baskervilles; and reports of a large creature roaming the moors at night. Doyle uses this setting to add suspense to the novel.

Red herrings are false clues; in this book, the subplot of Seldon, the escaped convict, is a red herring that casts suspicion on the Barrymores. This creates an interesting twist in the story.

Irony occurs when Watson suspects the "man on the Tor" as being involved in the mystery, but he turns out to be Holmes, and when Stapleton, who has spent two years learning the safe ways to travel through the Grimpen mire, ends up being sucked into the mire when he flees from Holmes.

Additionally, the symbolism in the book supports the novel's theme of the forward progress of mankind and the superiority of reason over superstition. Dr. Mortimer's comments in chapter 1 about the form and size of Holmes' skull, for instance, point to the size of his intellect. The legend of the curse of the Baskervilles represents superstition, mythology, and even religion, which Holmes dismantles via reason. And the Neolithic stone huts on the moor represent the dark ages of man's development, which have now been "taken over" by Holmes' superior intelligence.

Finally, Doyle uses at least two foils in the novel. A foil is one character who reflects the nature of another character by providing a significant contrast. Watson is always the quintessential foil to Holmes in that he sees the same clues many times, but fails to deduce their meaning as astutely as Holmes does. Similarly, Sir Henry is a foil to Mr. Stapleton; both are Baskerville heirs, but Sir Henry is kind and worthy, while Stapleton is diabolical and unworthy. Through these and other literary techniques, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adds interest and suspense to his novel.

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