The Hound of the Baskervilles | Study Guide

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Hound of the Baskervilles | Motifs


Physical Features

Physical features are a dominant motif in the novel. They are presented as clues that, if analyzed correctly, can lead to a deeper understanding of the mystery.

Physical features reveal family relationships. Stapleton's resemblance to Sir Hugo suggests that he is a Baskerville, which in turn suggests that his claim on the Baskerville fortune is the motive for the mysterious events of the novel. Physical features also suggest the lack of blood relation between the supposed Stapleton siblings, revealing that the exotic, dark beauty and the meek, pale naturalist are husband and wife.

Physical features also suggest emotional circumstances. Sir Charles's facial features reveal that he died in horror, suggesting that his death was not entirely natural. By the same token Selden's animal-like facial features allow a glimpse into his soul, suggesting that his base instincts led to his crimes.

The Boots

Sir Henry's boots are an indication that both the criminal and the detective rely on the senses to interpret and manipulate the world around them. Stapleton needs an article of clothing to train his dog to follow Sir Henry's scent and then to kill him. When he has to steal a second single boot because the first had never been worn, the seeming coincidence becomes a deliberate clue. The boot leads the dog on the trail of its victim, and it also leads Sherlock Holmes on the trail of the killer. Both are successful. The dog finds Sir Henry and attacks him, but Sherlock Homes is already there, foiling the plan. Sherlock Holmes's ultimate success becomes evident when he finds the missing boot in the Grimpen Mire as evidence for the attempted crime on the one hand, and as evidence of the criminal's death on the other.

Light and Darkness

Images of light and darkness pervade the story, illustrating the tension between reason and intuition, common sense and superstition. In daylight people can see and, hence, trust their sensory perception to decode the world around them. Yet in darkness sensory perception fails and they must rely on intuition.

As Watson and Sir Henry arrive in Devonshire County, dusk begins to set in, suggesting that they are leaving the realm of light represented by London and Sherlock Holmes—reason and clarity, law and order—and entering instead the realm of darkness represented by Baskerville Hall and its legend—superstition and obscurity, chaos and transgression.

The moor looms ominous on the horizon, and everything about Baskerville Hall is dark. So much so that when approaching the manor's driveway Sir Henry promises to install lights to dispel the goosebumps. Flickering lights and shadows dancing on the wall dominate the description of the manor, while rain clouds and fog dominate the description of the countryside.

The very moment of climax, when Sir Henry is attacked by the huge hound, is cloaked in darkness and fog, making it impossible to see and react to the danger ahead, until the fog clears and moonlight reveals that the apparition is but a disguised mutt.

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