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Free Online Theme Analysis for The Hound of the Baskervilles

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OVERALL ANALYSIS


PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

The story is linear for the most part, following the case from Watson’s perspective. This gives the reader the benefit of seeing the story from a perspective similar to their own. It is a brief time span, probably only a matter of a few weeks, with most of the climactic events taking part in the last two days. (Though there are dates mentioned periodically, there are holes in the chronology that are difficult to account for exactly.)

Conan Doyle employs a number of different ways to tell the plot, including Dr. Mortimer reading the old warning of the legend and the newspaper article, Watson’s reports and diary entries, and recounting conversations. The descriptive setting also contributes to the plot by adding the right atmosphere for the legend to be believable.

As expected in a detective story, the plot basically follows the collection of clues and results. While still in London, Holmes pursues three possible leads-whether Barrymore is at the Hall, which hotel the cut-up newspaper message came from, and the cabman’s number-but is unable to get anything out of them. Watson then sends reports from Baskerville Hall, while Holmes gathers information from nearby.

Watson gets to the bottom of the Barrymore situation on his own and, then when the two collaborate in person, more details of Stapleton come out. Though we know then who the mastermind behind the crime is, there is still no case against him. Holmes formulates one, having Sir Henry leave the Stapletons’s house by way of the moor, while Holmes, Watson, and Lestrade sit in wait for the hound.

The story is resolved when the hound is shot and Stapleton is presumed dead, pulled under by a misstep into the swampy land. Events are further concluded by Holmes’s summary in the final chapter.


THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS


Evil/ Supernatural

Though they seem to have little respect for the peasants’ opinions, in this case everyone from Dr. Mortimer to Watson on occasion are led to think that perhaps the hound is just a curse and nothing can be done to stop it. The air of supernatural is all about the moor, from the fog and swampy land to the mostly-intact houses of Neolithic man.


However, as it turns out, it is just an evil man and vicious hound behind the crimes. The latter’s physical appearance, with fiery eyes and mouth, certainly fits the typical image of an evil beast. Stapleton’s looks do not give a lot away about his demeanor (except his connection to Hugo Baskerville) but his actions are quite awful. Aside from the murder and other crimes, he abuses his wife, lies to his mistress, and draws Sir Henry into a heartbreak before trying to kill him. The man and hound both prove to be quite mortal though and are dead by the end of the novel.

Selden is another criminal, who likewise committed a murder. However, his crime does not seem as bad for several reasons. As readers we are left without the personal details of the crime, and so cannot easily sympathize with the victim. Also, we are inclined to trust Holmes’s judgment and he lives alongside Selden among the ancient dwellings with no objection. Finally, he does have a woman to mourn for him (his sister), whereas Stapleton is remembered with hatred.

Money / Power / Dehumanization

This is closely related to the previous theme, but with some additional features. Stapleton’s corrupt behavior comes about in the pursuit of money and power. Though in the right hands, such as Sir Charles’s or Sir Henry’s, they can be used for the benefit of everyone involved, with a man like Stapleton seeking control, there is great danger.

The dehumanization can be seen in the parallels involving Stapleton’s insects. There is Mrs. Stapleton who is tied up in the same room as the collections, and in a similar manner. Also, there are the mentions of how Stapleton himself will end up like his insects, caught in a net and kept in the case collection. He has as much movement about the swampy land as the moths and butterflies since he knows the way about on safe ground; however, one misstep and he ends up dead, like the insects in his collection.

A lesser issue of dehumanization is the shifting of identities. Stapleton steals Holmes’s identity for the cab ride, using it as easily as he has the fabricated names of Vandeleur and Stapleton.

Protection

What drives the pace of the novel is the balance between life and death that hangs about the characters until the criminal is discovered and dealt with. Holmes and Watson are important in this role of protecting the life of Sir Henry until Stapleton has been driven to his death, though they come close to failing several times. Among the most notable instances are when they see the body of Selden and mistake it for Sir Henry, and at the end when Holmes expresses some regret over having to put Sir Henry through such trauma in order to expose Stapleton.

Protection can take the form of information or weaponry. With more knowledge about the important players in the case and an idea of how things unfolded, Holmes is able to quickly identify his suspect and those who can help him. Anticipation of Stapleton’s next move required information and was a key part in keeping Sir Henry as safe as possible. Watson’s revolver is also seen as protection, so Holmes makes sure he has it when he leaves London, and checks that they are all armed when the hound is about to appear.

Detection

This category includes several aspects, starting with the fact that Holmes is a detective. Because of his expertise, he notices more about objects and people than most and picks up on leads from passing details. The plot is set up to be very complimentary to this sense of making deductions and methodical clue gathering, with the reader gradually being introduced to his procedures and then learning more information about the case.

Another aspect would be that of avoiding detection. The convict Selden is a clear example of this, who must hide from the armed soldier that Watson notes on their arrival and Frankland’s persistent scans of the moor with his telescope in order to escape. He dies anyhow, when the scent of Sir Henry on his clothing leads the hound to mistakenly detect and pursue him. Stapleton is another criminal, trying to avoid detection by Holmes (who is himself hiding out for some time).

This hints at another interplay, between crime and science. Both are represented in the two sides of detection, since one is concerned with cover-up and the other unveiling it. Stapleton has these two parts in his person, as an entomologist but also a murderer. Holmes does as well to a lesser degree, since his connection with science is confined to the methods, and not the theories (logical thought, but not about planetary rotation).

Family Lines

Some of the relatives in the novel are quite different from each other, such as Mrs. Barrymore and Selden, and Sir Henry and Stapleton. Of greater focus, is the similarity among descendents; as Holmes says “‘[a] study of family portraits is enough to convert a man to the doctrine of reincarnation.’” Hugo Baskerville supposedly began the curse of the Baskervilles and in a way he actually did. His looks are a reflection that his personality as well has been passed on to a particular member, such as the original fleeing Rodger Baskerville. His son (Stapleton) became the Baskerville hound, hunting down and killing the other heirs.


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McCauley, Kelly. "TheBestNotes on The Hound of the Baskervilles". TheBestNotes.com. . 11 May 2008
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