Analysing the extract

The question

How does Conan Doyle present the character of Sherlock Holmes in this extract?

For the first part of the question you should examine the language of the extract closely. Look at how Holmes is presented here.

Look again at the extract below and examine the highlighted points. Think about what Conan Doyle is showing the reader about Holmes' personality.

The extract

"Why should you, for a mere passing pleasure, risk the loss of those great powers with which you have been endowed? Remember that I speak not only as one comrade to another, but as a medical man to one for whose constitution he is to some extent answerable."

(1) He did not seem offended. On the contrary, (2) he put his finger-tips together and leaned his elbows on the arms of his chair, like one who has a relish for conversation.

(3) "My mind," he said, "rebels at stagnation. (4) Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, - (5) or rather created it, for (6) I am the only one in the world."

"The only unofficial detective?" I said, (7) raising my eyebrows.

"The only unofficial consulting detective," he answered. (8) "I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection."

  • (1) 'He did not seem offended' - The short sentence emphasises Holmes' unemotional response to Watson's challenge about his drug habit.
  • (2) 'he put his finger-tips together' - Conan Doyle shows Holmes making a gesture of superiority, making a steeple of his fingers.
  • (3) '"My mind," he said' - Conan Doyle separates the first part of Holmes' sentence and draws the reader's attention to the importance of Holmes' superior mind.
  • (4) 'Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram' - The repetition of 'Give me' emphasises Holmes' desire for challenging work and puzzles
  • (5) 'or rather created it' - There is some arrogance in Holmes' claim that he has created his own profession
  • (6) 'I am the only one in the world' - His egotism is emphasised by this confident statement.
  • (7) 'raising my eyebrows' - Watson's response suggests some surprise or doubt at Holmes' claim.
  • (8) 'I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection' - The repetition of 'I am' shows Holmes' self-belief and arrogance. The superlatives 'last' and 'highest' imply that he is self-assured and utterly convinced of his own abilities.