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The Hound of the Baskervilles

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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What is the main conflict of The Hound of the Baskervilles?

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The Hound of the Baskervilles is an early example of a detective novel, in which a crime is investigated by the world's first consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. It has since been viewed as one of the best examples of a mystery novel and it is said to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's favorite story. It remains popular today, with numerous adaptations in various formats. The story concerns the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, who was found lying dead on the moor. The local population believes that his death was caused by a fearsome supernatural hound that is supposed to haunt the area, but Holmes isn't so sure... In The Hound Of The Baskervilles , Watson describes his friend Holmes as "

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The novel includes all three types of conflict— human versus nature, human versus human, and human versus themself. At first it seems that human versus nature is more important, as the Baskervilles are plagued by the hound. Later a human versus himself conflict surfaces as important, as it is revealed that one individual’s greed motivated his behavior. As the plot unravels, however, the human versus human conflict emerges as the main one.

The underlying story of the hound that has plagued the Baskervilles in olden times provides a backdrop for the current events. Fear of the hound apparently killed Sir Charles. The hound, although it is an actual dog, and the desolate, hostile moor together symbolize nature as an antagonistic force against which the humans are pitted.

John Stapleton embodies the human versus himself conflict. His outward persona is the scientist intellectual, but lurking inside is a deep resentment and jealousy of the wealthy Baskervilles, which undergirds his devious schemes.

It is Stapleton’s elaborate machinations, including painting a dog to look fearsome, and his relentless pursuit of the individual Baskervilles that establishes human versus human as the main conflict. Another aspect of this conflict is Stapleton’s efforts to outwit or elude detection by Sherlock Holmes.

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Conflicts in fiction are usually expressed in the pithy terms of "man vs. __________," where you can fill in the blank to express the conflict. Common conflicts include man vs. nature, man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. God or Fate, man vs. himself, and man vs. technology. (Of course, "man" in this context means "human" and includes women.) The first "man" in the expression is the protagonist, hero, or main character of the story. The term that comes after the "vs." is the primary force that stands in the way of the protagonist achieving his goal or solving his problem.

Thinking of the conflict in The Hound of the Baskervilles in these terms, we can say that the conflict is man vs. man. The first man is Sherlock Holmes. Although Holmes's client, Sir Henry Baskerville, and Holmes's sidekick, Watson, are important characters and are on the same side as Holmes, the novella is written in such a way that Holmes is the central figure (even though he is absent for several chapters). Holmes's goal in the story is to solve the mystery of Sir Charles's death and to prevent any mischief from being done to Sir Henry. The primary impediment to that goal is a man, namely Mr. Stapleton. Stapleton has plotted for years to acquire the Baskerville estate, and his escapades with the fearsome hound resulted in Sir Charles's death and endanger Sir Henry. Using his amazing powers of deduction (and in spite some questionable methodology), Holmes reveals Stapleton's plot and secures Henry's life and estate. 

In this intriguing Sherlock Holmes mystery, Holmes sets his wits against the crafty and sinister Stapleton and prevails. The conflict is man vs. man, specifically, Holmes vs. Stapleton.

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The main conflict in this story is between the Baskervilles and the curse that seemingly haunts them. The danger to Sir Henry from the scheming Stapleton is real enough. Holmes and Watson, of course, champion Sir Henry and so they are on the side of good against the evil represented by Stapleton. 

Stapleton's hounding (if one may forgive the pun) of first Sir Charles Baskerville and then Sir Henry stems from a family conflict, as it turns out. Stapleton, being a distant cousin of Sir Henry, has his eye on securing the Baskerville estate for himself. 

This conflict in this story takes on an interesting extra dimension: the opposition between rationalism and superstition. The hound inspires all the more fear as it is believed to be a demon - as elaborated by the lurid legend related by Dr Mortimer early in the story. Holmes therefore has to deal with not just the physical threat to the Baskerville heir, he also has to debunk all the fear surrounding the hound, and the gloomy desolate moor and the forbidding Grimpen Mire. His scientific rationalism triumphs in the end, so that he finally remark with some confidence that 'I do not know that this place contains any secret which we have not already fathomed' (chapter 14). 

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What is the conflict in The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

As with many mystery or suspense novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle portrays a conflict between good and evil, with the morally good characters trying either to avenge past wrongs or to prevent future ones, and coming into direct conflict with evil characters. 

The major conflict which controls the overall arc of the plot is that between Stapleton and his rivals as heirs to the Baskerville estate. Although he succeeds in killing Sir Charles, due to the intervention of Dr. Mortimer and Sherlock Holmes, he fails to kill Sir Henry.

Many minor conflicts drive various subplots. Mrs. Stapleton eventually ends up in conflict with her husband because she objects to his murderous schemes.

Another subplot involves Selden, also known as the "Notting Hill Murderer" who has escaped prison. Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore are trying to help him emigrate even as the other locals and authorities are attempting to apprehend him. 

Watson's efforts to identify the mysterious stranger (who turns out to be Holmes) make for a minor comic subplot, and a conflict that ends in a friendly discussion.

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What is the conflict in The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" is the type of story in which the villain is not immediately identified but whose existence is inferable by the things he does. Sooner or later the identity of the criminal in a story like this has to be made known to the reader. The villain in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" is a man named Mr. Stapleton. He is described as follows in the eNotes study guide.

Mr. Stapleton [is] actually a rival heir who arranged the death of Sir Charles and plans the death of Sir Henry. He is a passionate entomologist and a fearless explorer of the Grimpen Mire, where he keeps the great hound. When he prepares to loose it on a victim, he coats it with phosphorous, which makes the animal glow and appear to breathe fire. In order better to entice Sir Henry, he insists that his wife pretend to be his sister. He dies in the Mire, fleeing from Holmes, Watson, and Inspector Lestrade.

Watson, acting as Sherlock Holmes' agent, meets Stapleton early in the story but does not suspect him of being, in effect, the true initiator of the conflict. Sherlock Holmes is the opponent because he is asked to protect Sir Henry Baskerville and perhaps to find out who was responsible for the death of Sir Charles Baskerville. Stapleton wants Sir Charles dead, Holmes wants him alive. This is the basic conflict. Watson has an unusually important role in this story, while Holmes remains in the background. Here is a situation in which both principals in the conflict are "offstage," so to speak, most of the time. The whole problem is to discover the identity of the perpetrator, the person who is causing all the trouble. Once Stapleton's identity is known, the story is about over. In a story of this type, the villain cannot remain unknown from beginning to end. Typically something occurs to remind the reader that this evil character is still at large and still dangerous, still motivated by whatever it is that motivates him.

There are many "serial killer" stories in the movies and on television in which the perpetrator is unknown and virtually invisible. Typically he kills someone, usually a woman. A detective is brought in to solve the murder and prevent future occurrences. Then another woman is murdered with the same modus operandi (M.O.). Still the cunning, elusive perpetrator is unknown and invisible. The detective sets a trap. The perpetrator is almost caught--almost! But he gets away. However, he leaves some clue. Finally the detective catches him and reveals his identity. It may turn out that he is someone known to the viewer--another detective, perhaps.

In "The Hound of the Baskervilles" the need to remind the reader of the unidentified villain's presence and persistent threat is met by having the fugitive named Selden, who is known as the Notting Hill Murderer, killed by the hound because Selden is wearing the discarded clothes of Sir Henry Baskerville, whose servants, the Barrymores, gave them to Selden. Naturally the hound takes Selden for Sir Henry. This is further proof that some unknown schemer wants to murder Sir Henry by setting a vicious hound on him. Holmes sets a trap and catches Stapleton who dies horribly in the mire while attempting to flee. The basic conflict may be a little hard to see because the cunning evildoer is unknown until late in the story. 

There is a similarity between the plot of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and that of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." In the latter story Holmes is trying to protect Helen Stoner from an unknown person who murdered her sister Julia two years earlier. In "The Hound of the Baskervilles," Holmes is trying to protect Sir Henry from whoever murdered Sir Charles Baskerville.

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