The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | Study Guide

Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


How does the story "A Case of Identity" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes cast doubt on the idea that justice is inevitable?

There is no happy ending to this story, which involves a cruel case of trickery between family members. The object of this grand deception is Mary Sutherland, who has been tricked into falling in love. After Sherlock Holmes figures out her stepfather (James Windibank disguised as Hosmer Angel) is the mastermind of this hoax, he implores the young woman: "try to let Mr. Hosmer Angel vanish from your memory, as he has done from your life." He says this because he cannot bring himself to expose to Sutherland the perpetrators of this horrendous deception—her mother and stepfather. In response, however, Sutherland—ever faithful to her imagined beau—says she will abide by her pledge to Hosmer Angel and not become romantically involved with anyone else. This means she will continue to live at home for an indefinite amount of time, enriching the very people who conspired against her. It's difficult to conclude, then, that this story has a satisfying message. Rather, it suggests justice isn't always achieved, even when Holmes solves a mystery.

How do Mary Sutherland and Sherlock Holmes differ in their views of "the little things" in the story "A Case of Identity" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes?

Mary Sutherland's gratitude for "the little things" her missing partner would do for her is situationally ironic and not a little bit sad. To her the "little things"—such as asking Sutherland to write to him by hand, not by typewriter—are proof of his love for her. To Holmes, however, these "little things" are more sinister. They aren't expressions of love, but key elements of the plot being perpetrated against Sutherland. In fact throughout this story collection Holmes credits his crime-solving success to focusing intensely on "the little things." As he explains to Sutherland, "it has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important."

How do Lestrade and Sherlock Holmes differ in their approaches to crime-solving, as shown in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes?

This story's narrative exposes the differences between Lestrade and Sherlock Holmes. Lestrade, a veteran Scotland Yard investigator, is the epitome of the establishment cop. He is cautious and conservative and thinks Holmes is overthinking the most obvious scenario—that James McCarthy is guilty of murder. He is repeatedly dubious about Sherlock Holmes's armchair analyses and wonders why the private detective spends so much time reinvestigating what appears to be a routine crime. To him the murder case "is plain as a pikestaff, and the more one goes into it the plainer it becomes." Holmes, on the other hand, takes absolutely nothing for granted. He closely reviews all of the existing evidence, refusing to automatically accept any pat conclusions. In his mission to ensure a thorough investigation is conducted he sleuths around the Boscombe Valley searching for potential new clues, whereas Lestrade seems content to merely lie back and let McCarthy's trial run its course.

What role does geographical mobility play in the story "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes?

"The Boscombe Valley Mystery" showcases the opportunities for geographical mobility within the British Empire. Both of the older men involved in the murder, Charles McCarthy and John Turner, once lived in Australia but then moved to England. Watson and Holmes (and Lestrade) traveled to the Boscombe Valley from London by train and, once they arrive in town, make their way around via carriage. The murder suspect, James McCarthy, also travels back and forth between his home, Hatherley Farm, and the home of his supposed wife in Bristol. The story reflects the new travel opportunities available to commoners in Victorian England.

What does the setting in the story "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes suggest about appearances?

All is not well in the Boscombe Valley, despite its perception as a haven for solitude and relaxation. The Turner family and the McCarthy family seem to be typical country folks, with homesteads and families that keep to themselves. As Sherlock Holmes exposes through his investigation, however, blackmail and murder lurk behind this facade of simple country living. In this way the Boscombe Valley is not so different from the big city. The larger point we can take from this story—and many other ones in the collection—is that appearances are deceiving, especially the appearance of the countryside as a harmless, innocent, happy place.

In the story "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, what does Sherlock Holmes's response to John Turner's admission of guilt reveal about Holmes's philosophy?

Holmes's response offers the reader a glimpse of Holmes's personal beliefs when it comes to crime and punishment. Holmes does not reject Turner or declare he is a bad person after he confesses to killing Charles McCarthy: "It is not for me to judge you," he says to the sickly older man, "You are yourself aware that you will soon have to answer for your deed at a higher court than the Assizes." In other words Holmes is saying that only God can judge Turner. Holmes implies, however, he is sympathetic to Turner's plight: "God help us! ... Why does fate play such tricks with poor, helpless worms?" he asks in a seemingly indirect attempt to comfort Turner.

In what way does The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, "The Five Orange Pips", evoke a sense of dread?

"The Five Orange Pips" reads like a classic thriller. We are introduced to a character (in this case, John Openshaw), and slowly learn that his life is in danger from unseen and unidentified forces. As the tension builds for the character, who is increasingly aware of his perilous state, it puts the reader more on edge—a classic technique of page-turners. Halfway through the story, it dawns on Openshaw that he is now a target of the same shadowy forces that killed his uncle and father (Elias Openshaw and Joseph Openshaw). As this information dawns on him, he "[sinks] his face into his thin, white hands ... 'I have felt helpless ... I seem to be in the grasp of some resistless, inexorable evil, which no foresight and no precautions can guard against,'" he says despairingly to Holmes. As a result the reader feels Openshaw's panic and dread.

In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, "The Five Orange Pips", why is Elias Openshaw such a recluse?

As readers learn over the course of the story, Elias Openshaw has something on the Ku Klux Klan—something, in fact, worth killing for. Accordingly, when he arrives back home in Horsham he keeps to himself, allowing only his nephew John to visit. He drinks heavily and has a terrible disposition, both of which imply an anxiety. Holmes points this out later in the story; Elias Openshaw's "extreme love of solitude in England suggests the idea that he was in fear of someone or something," he tells Watson, as they discuss the case. Indeed, at the very beginning of the story, John Openshaw explained that his uncle's first response to receiving an anonymous letter with the five orange pips was "My God, my God, my sins have overtaken me!" Elias is clearly haunted by his experiences in the United States.

In what way does the story "The Five Orange Pips" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes illustrate Sherlock Holmes's commitment to justice?

Holmes's client in "The Five Orange Pips," John Openshaw, reveals a family history of intrigue and (very likely) oppressive and racist activities on the part of his uncle Elias, who was murdered a few years before. Elias Openshaw, the reader learns from his nephew's tale, made his fortune in the United States, where he was a colonel in the Confederate army and later a Ku Klux Klansman, before having some sort of falling out with the Klan around the time of its collapse in 1869. Despite Elias Openshaw's shady past Doyle presents him (and his brother Joseph and his nephew) with sympathy, as victims of retaliation by other former Klansman bent on revenge. Holmes does not merely advise John Openshaw to accept the problem as the result of being related to (and inheriting the fortune of) someone who was a racist and slaveholder, tied to a terrorist organization; rather he treats him (and, implicitly, his uncle too) with equanimity, and true justice—as though to imply no one deserves to be stalked and murdered because of poor past choices.

In "The Five Orange Pips" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, what does Sherlock Holmes mean when he says "we have our web to weave, while theirs is already woven"?

Sherlock Holmes says this to John Openshaw after they figure out Openshaw is in grave danger. By piecing together the clues from Openshaw's story, they realize that the KKK-commissioned assassins who killed Openshaw's uncle and father, Elias Openshaw and Joseph Openshaw, are closing in on John Openshaw. He had received a letter containing five orange pips just the previous day in an envelope postmarked from East London—meaning his persecutors are extremely close. This is what Holmes means when he says "they" have woven their web: a plot to harm Openshaw is afoot. By "we have our web to weave," he is saying Openshaw must immediately follow the letter's demands, leaving the brass box and note on the sundial in his garden. This is the only action that may save his life.

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