The Hound of the Baskervilles | Study Guide

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Hound of the Baskervilles | Symbols

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Hound

The hound is a typical Gothic symbol of the uncontrollable supernatural. It first makes its appearance in the Baskerville legend as a spectral beast, sent from hell to punish Sir Hugo for his debauchery. Sir Hugo, who thought of himself not only the master of Baskerville Hall but also as the rightful ruler of the people of Devonshire County, suffers a terrible end when the beast mauls him to death. The creature of the legend cannot be ruled or controlled; it is otherworldly, supernatural, and dangerous. Humans are no match for its size, power, and strength.

The superstitious belief lives on in Sir Charles, who seems to have died of fright upon seeing the hound that could be heard all over the moor on the night of his death. Stapleton, although he does not believe in the legend, makes use of it by recreating it. He trains a mix of a bloodhound and a mastiff to recognize Sir Henry's scent and uses phosphorous to make it look like the ghostly apparition from the legend. There is a hound that haunts the Baskervilles indeed: It is Stapleton, the vile and uncontrollable relative willing to track down and kill other family members to be first in line to the family fortune. Stapleton's unbridled greed has unleashed the murderous beast in himself.

When Sherlock Holmes and Watson bait the dog and kill it, Stapleton can only escape their trap through the moor, where, just like his ancestor, he finds death and therefore justice. Both the ghostly hellhound of the legend as well as Stapleton's bloodthirsty dog represent all that is dangerous and untamable and terrifying. Its vile, beastly instincts, unless controlled and counteracted by human reason, lead to imminent doom.

Moor

A moor, by definition, is uncultivated land, a piece of untamed nature. The moor, like the hound, symbolizes the untamed emotional side of human nature. It makes its first appearance when Watson, Sir Henry, and Dr. Mortimer travel from London to Devonshire County. It looms dark and ominous on the horizon, contrasting with the calm and beautiful landscape they have been traveling through. A typical Gothic symbol, the moor seems melancholy and gloomy, impenetrable and treacherous. The moor is ever-present and claims many victims throughout. According to the Baskerville legend, Sir Hugo and the maiden die a terrible death on the moor when pursued by the legendary hound. Stapleton relives the legend with a twist. He dies in the moor, which represents emotions, just like his ancestor, who represents debauchery, suggesting that by giving in to greed he became a vile, animal-like criminal and sealed his own fate.

Baskerville Hall

The manor is another typical Gothic element. It stands for ancient lore on the one hand and for changing social structures on the other. When Watson and Sir Henry first arrive, Baskerville Hall exudes the atmosphere of melancholy gloom and doom so typical of Gothic tales. Clearly this is the strange and sinister place where mysterious events will take place.

Baskerville Hall also shows signs of wear and tear and neglect. Representing the lifestyle of the British countryside, this suggests the waning power of the rural nobility at the time. Dr. Mortimer stresses that Devonshire needs another charitable Baskerville to invest in it, and Sir Henry is quite willing to ensure that the estate and the fortune stay together so that investments are possible. However, a new social structure is at the horizon. Barrymore and his wife, coming from generations of long-time servants at Baskerville Hall, are planning to leave to become entrepreneurs. At the outgoing of the 19th century, a growing middle class was beginning to challenge the centuries-long hold of the aristocracy.

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