The Adventure of the Dancing Men Themes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story resembles many other stories in the Holmes series in that it revolves around a secret past, an apparently forgotten indiscretion. Time and again Holmes is called on to piece together a series of seemingly unconnected clues. The key to these puzzles is frequently, as it is here, a past action—a love affair, a theft, a personal injury—that one of the participants hopes will remain undiscovered. Past secrets always have a way of coming back to haunt people, Doyle believed. In this story, for example, Mrs. Cubitt will not be able to escape her past, no matter how badly she wishes to do so. If she had told Cubitt about her involvement with Slaney in Chicago, her husband would probably have loved her just the same. Because she attempts instead to keep the past concealed, she loses her husband and is condemned to live out the rest of her life without the one man who loved her so dearly that he would never break the promise he had made.