A Study in Scarlet

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Themes and Colors
Observation and Deduction Theme Icon
Injustice and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Gender and Misogyny Theme Icon
Revenge and Murder Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Study in Scarlet, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Injustice and Hypocrisy Theme Icon

The novel belongs to the genre of detective fiction, and it is very much concerned with justice, which in its most immediate form entails the pursuit of the murderer. However, as the novel progresses, other forms of justice, or rather injustice, begin to emerge. Most prominent among the story’s injustices are those committed by the Mormon characters. In a controversial and perhaps exaggerated depiction of Mormonism, Doyle presents the Mormons’ actions and practices as cruel, shameful, and hypocritical. For example, when the Mormons find John Ferrier and Lucy on the brink of death in the desert, a fictionalized version of the Mormon leader Brigham Young reveals that he is willing to let them die if they do not convert to Mormonism. When Ferrier first encounters the Mormons in the desert, they claim that they “seek a refuge from the violent man and from the godless.” However, the narrator hints, in a very sensationalized account of the Mormon vigilante Danite band, that the “saints” themselves become violent against any potential dissenters, who mysteriously disappear if they voice their misgivings about Mormon practices. When Brigham Young gives Ferrier a month to force Lucy to marry either Drebber or Stangerson, the Mormons spend the next thirty days psychologically intimidating Ferrier by sending threatening notes and by leaving a countdown of numbers all over his house and farm. Eventually, John Ferrier becomes a victim of their violence, as Stangerson murders him in the name of keeping the Mormon faith. Jefferson Hope’s murders – carried out as revenge for Drebber and Strangerson’s actions – are therefore complicated in terms of justice. He sees his revenge as an act of justice, while the police see the crimes as injustices.

Doyle also reveals injustice and hypocrisy in the police force. For example, in Part 1, Constable John Rance readily accepts Holmes’ bribe to tell his account of the moments after Drebber’s death. Though detectives Lestrade and Gregson are “the pick of a bad lot” in the Scotland Yard, meaning that they are the best of a bunch of bad detectives, they are nonetheless inferior detectives to Sherlock Holmes and yet they often claim the credit for cases that Holmes solves. This pattern of injustice initially makes Sherlock reluctant to solve Drebber’s case, the credit for which Lestrade and Gregson also claim. In the beginning of the novel, Holmes remarks to Watson that though the detectives might admit their inferiority to him when privately asking for his help, they would never admit it to anyone else. Intent on exposing their hypocrisy, Watson publishes his journal recounting “the study in scarlet,” informing the public of Holmes’ efforts in bringing the murderer to justice, while simultaneously achieving for Holmes a professional or historical kind of justice by exposing Gregson’s and Lestrade’s inferior detective work. The book itself, then, is presented as an act of “justice” in the way it gives Holmes the credit he rightfully deserves. At the same time, the book plays with the idea of justice and injustice, and finding the gray areas that connect the two.

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Injustice and Hypocrisy ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Injustice and Hypocrisy appears in each Chapter of A Study in Scarlet. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Injustice and Hypocrisy Quotes in A Study in Scarlet

Below you will find the important quotes in A Study in Scarlet related to the theme of Injustice and Hypocrisy.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air — or as free as an income of eleven shillings and sixpence a day will permit a man to be. Under such circumstances I naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. There I stayed for some time at a private hotel in the Strand, leading a comfortless, meaningless existence, and spending such money as I had, considerably more freely than I ought.

Related Characters: John H. Watson (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel opens with John Watson’s dreary return to England after sustaining a shoulder injury while fighting in Afghanistan. “Free as air,” and without any friends or family, Watson is isolated and lonely. He places himself in the same rank as “loungers and idlers,” and despite his small income, he chooses to live in a hotel beyond his means. He considers his existence “meaningless,” perhaps as a result of his traumatic time at war or because of his social isolation. However, everything once he meets and befriends Sherlock Holmes, whose intelligence, eccentricities, and murder case pique his interest and bring new life into Watson.


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Let me see — what are my other shortcomings. I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I’ll soon be right. What have you to confess now? It’s just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together.

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Holmes and Watson have just met and are gauging their compatibility as roommates by discussing their faults. Holmes’ comment that he “get[s] in the dumps” for days at a time is perhaps a reference to depression, drug use (which Watson dismisses in this novel but which is confirmed in later Holmes stories), or to Holmes’ deep dissatisfaction with everyday matters that do not concern the “scarlet thread” of murder with which he is obsessed. Though Holmes purports to confess “the worst” of himself, he does not — despite his keen observation skills — confess his arrogance, which emerges several times in the novel.

Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

“There are no crimes and criminals in these days,” he said, querulously. “What is the use of having brains in our profession? I know well that I have it in me to make my name famous. No man lives or has ever lived who has brought the same amount of study and of natural talent to the detection of crime which I have done. And what is the result? There is no crime to detect, or, at most, some bungling villainy with a motive so transparent that even a Scotland Yard official can see through it.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

After Holmes explains to Watson his occupation as a consulting detective, he complains that there aren’t any crimes befitting his skills. Lamenting the inability to use his extraordinary intellect, Holmes displays his extraordinary arrogance, claiming that he is the best detective in history and that cases solvable by the Scotland Yard are beneath him. Importantly, Holmes also reveals his need for attention, his desire to “make [his] name famous.” Though in this scene, Watson perceives Holmes as conceited, by the end of their “study in scarlet,” Watson devotes himself to this very end, publishing his account of the case and Holmes’ skills as a form of literary justice for Holmes.

Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

“Gregson is the smartest of the Scotland Yarders,” my friend remarked; “he and Lestrade are the pick of a bad lot. They are both quick and energetic, but conventional — shockingly so. They have their knives into one another, too. They are as jealous as a pair of professional beauties. There will be some fun over this case if they are both put upon the scent.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

After receiving a letter from Gregson asking for assistance on a difficult murder case, Holmes gives Watson his opinion of both Gregson and Lestrade. Though Holmes finds all of the Scotland Yard police force to be incompetent, Gregson and Lestrade are slightly less so. Holmes summarizes the detectives’ relationship as one based on competition and casually demeans them as “professional beauties,” that is, women in the 19th century who were akin to socialites or models today. Though Holmes amuses himself at Gregson’s and Lestrade’s expense, he does not realize that he too engages in this petty competition with them throughout the case, when he repeatedly insults their inferior deduction skills and races against them to solve the case first.

On his rigid face there stood an expression of horror, and, as it seemed to me, of hatred, such as I have never seen upon human features. This malignant and terrible contortion, combined with the low forehead, blunt nose, and prognathous jaw, gave the dead man a singularly simious and ape-like appearance, which was increased by his writhing, unnatural posture. I have seen death in many forms, but never has it appeared to me in a more fearsome aspect than in that dark, grimy apartment, which looked out upon one of the main arteries of suburban London.

Related Characters: John H. Watson (speaker), Enoch Drebber
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

After Holmes’ extensive examination of the grounds leading up to Lauriston Gardens, Watson and Holmes enter the crime scene and find Drebber’s corpse on the floor. Watson’s concentration on Drebber’s facial features anticipate his later reliance on physiognomy (the pseudoscience of determining character traits based on physical features) to describe Drebber’s character as containing “vice of the most malignant type.” Doyle’s (or rather Watson’s) portrayal of Drebber as “ape-like” is perhaps meant to dehumanize him and to sympathize with his murderer, Jefferson Hope, as Drebber is later revealed to have been an immoral, hypocritical, and violent man.

Though Watson had witnessed violent deaths as a soldier in Afghanistan, Drebber’s death is nevertheless more horrifying, possibly because his murder occurred in London, the nation’s capital and emblem of “civilization,” rather than in the context of war, where death is expected, or in a non-Western country such as Afghanistan that was seen as less civilized by British imperialists.

Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Oh, bless you, it doesn’t matter in the least. If the man is caught, it will be on account of their exertions; if he escapes, it will be in spite of their exertions. It’s heads I win and tails you lose. Whatever they do, they will have followers. “Un sot trouve toujours un plus sot qui l’admire.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

Responding to various newspapers’ praise of Gregson’s and Lestrade’s involvement on the case, Holmes tells Watson that the detectives’ roles in the case will be irrelevant to how they are portrayed in print. Whether they catch the murderer or not, they will still be praised and admired. Holmes quotes the French poet Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, saying “A fool always finds a greater fool to admire him.” To Holmes, Gregson and Lestrade are both fools, and praise of them is unwarranted. Holmes, however, doesn’t seem to be against praise or admiration in itself (he himself continually seeks the admiration of Watson and the Scotland Yarders), but merely the praise of those he considers his inferiors.

Part 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

He had always determined, deep down in his resolute heart, that nothing would ever induce him to allow his daughter to wed a Mormon. Such a marriage he regarded as no marriage at all, but as a shame and a disgrace. Whatever he might think of the Mormon doctrines, upon that one point he was inflexible.

Related Characters: John Ferrier, Lucy Ferrier
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

A few weeks after Lucy’s engagement to Jefferson Hope, Ferrier is reflecting on his daughters upcoming marriage and his opinions on Mormon polygamy. A source of gossip in the Mormon community, the mystery of why Ferrier never married is now revealed: he views polygamy as shameful and false. That Ferrier’s opinions on Mormon marriage differ so starkly from Mormon doctrine sets him apart from the community. That Ferrier is represented as not only a devout Christian and but also the archetypal American serves to set up a dichotomy between traditional Christianity and Mormonism, and between American values and Mormon values. Doyle therefore presents Mormon polygamy as both anti-Christian and anti-American.

Yes, a dangerous matter — so dangerous that even the most saintly dared only whisper their religious opinions with bated breath, lest something which fell from their lips might be misconstrued, and bring down a swift retribution upon them. The victims of persecution had now turned persecutors on their own account and persecutors of the most terrible description. Not the Inquisition of Seville, nor the German Vehmgericht, nor the Secret Societies of Italy, were ever able to put a more formidable machinery in motion than that which cast a cloud over the State of Utah.

Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrator here explains why Ferrier doesn’t voice his opposition to Mormon polygamy. In a sensationalized description of a Mormon vigilante group, the narrator reveals that any hint of a dissenting opinion results in the persecution of the (perceived) dissenter. The narrator hyperbolically claims that Mormon persecution is more terrifying than comparable European organizations that served as secret tribunals with the power to sentence people to death.

The rise of violence among the Mormons highlights their hypocrisy. They had escaped from Illinois to Utah in order to “seek a refuge from the violent man,” but now they are becoming violent against their own church members. The unjust persecution of potential dissenters terrorizes the rest of the community, stifling any freedom of speech they may have had as Americans.

The supply of adult women was running short, and polygamy without a female population on which to draw was a barren doctrine indeed. Strange rumours began to be bandied about — rumours of murdered immigrants and rifled camps in regions where Indians had never been seen. Fresh women appeared in the harems of the Elders — women who pined and wept, and bore upon their faces the traces of an unextinguishable horror. Belated wanderers upon the mountains spoke of gangs of armed men, masked, stealthy, and noiseless, who flitted by them in the darkness. These tales and rumours took substance and shape, and were corroborated and recorroborated, until they resolved themselves into a definite name. To this day, in the lonely ranches of the West, the name of the Danite Band, or the Avenging Angels, is a sinister and an ill-omened one.

Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

Especially controversial is Doyle’s depiction of horrors inflicted by the Mormon persecutors, known as the Danite Band, who murder immigrants and abduct non-Mormon women, who are then forced into polygamous marriages with and most likely raped by the Mormon oligarchs. The narrator portrays Mormon polygyny (when a man marries multiple wives) as both impractical and as fostering violence. Though the Mormons had moved to Utah to escape “the violent man,” now they are not only persecuting their own community members but also murdering innocent non-Mormons and subjecting women to sexual violence. The corruption among the Mormons thus spreads beyond their own community, harming others in the process.

Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

“We have come,” continued Stangerson, “at the advice of our fathers to solicit the hand of your daughter for whichever of us may seem good to you and to her. As I have but four wives and Brother Drebber here has seven, it appears to me that my claim is the stronger one.”

“Nay, nay, Brother Stangerson,” cried the other; “the question is not how many wives we have, but how many we can keep. My father has now given over his mills to me, and I am the richer man.”

“But my prospects are better,” said the other, warmly. “When the Lord removes my father, I shall have his tanning yard and his leather factory. Then I am your elder, and am higher in the Church.”

“It will be for the maiden to decide,” rejoined young Drebber, smirking at his own reflection in the glass. “We will leave it all to her decision.”

Related Characters: Enoch Drebber (speaker), Joseph Stangerson (speaker), John Ferrier, Lucy Ferrier, Enoch Drebber, Elder Stangerson
Page Number: 93-94
Explanation and Analysis:

After Brigham Young threatened Ferrier and Lucy with an ultimatum, Ferrier sends out a message to Jefferson Hope in the city, and returns to find Drebber and Stangerson already in his house. The two young men here presumptuously argue over who should marry Lucy, based on their wealth and existing number of wives. Drebber and Stangerson casually objectify their wives, referring to them as if they were collectibles or pets. As their argument reveals, a marriage to either one of them would not be founded on love, as is Lucy’s relationship with Jefferson Hope, but rather on the men’s ability to manage the expense of “keeping” an extra wife.

Adding insult to injury, Drebber falsely claims that Lucy’s marriage is entirely her decision, despite the fact that Brigham Young has already threatened Lucy’s life in order to force her to marry one of the men. The Mormons’ insistence that Lucy marry a Mormon man is motivated not only by their rejection of Hope, a Gentile (non-Mormon) but also an implicit gender ideology that women must be married and thus dependent on men. They don’t, by contrast, insist that men must marry Mormon women, as they don’t force Ferrier to marry and as they bring in supplies of “fresh” and presumably non-Mormon women to be used by the Mormon Elders.

Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

“It don’t much matter to you why I hated these men,” he said; “it’s enough that they were guilty of the death of two human beings — a father and a daughter — and that they had, therefore, forfeited their own lives. After the lapse of time that has passed since their crime, it was impossible for me to secure a conviction against them in any court. I knew of their guilt though, and I determined that I should be judge, jury, and executioner all rolled into one. You’d have done the same, if you have any manhood in you, if you had been in my place.”

Related Characters: Jefferson Hope (speaker), Sherlock Holmes, John H. Watson, John Ferrier, Lucy Ferrier, Enoch Drebber, Joseph Stangerson, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

After Holmes brings Hope to the Scotland Yard, Hope decides to make a full statement, as his aortic aneurysm could prevent him from telling his story at any time. Hope views his murder of Drebber and Stangerson as just, but his conception of justice is not the traditional European conception of justice as blind and impartial, but rather a more personal, vengeful “eye for an eye” form of justice that might be found in the American Wild West stories that Doyle favored as a child. To Hope, Drebber and Stangerson “forfeit” their lives because they are responsible for the deaths of Lucy and John Ferrier. Courtroom justice is inexistent or inaccessible in Hope’s Wild West, and he takes it upon himself as “judge, jury, and executioner” to carry out vigilante justice, despite the fact that the Mormons’ vigilantism was in large part responsible for the very deaths he was avenging. Hope further justifies his actions as a sign of his “manhood,” a patriarchal value with which he appeals to his captors (all men) but which he ironically does not realize helped to facilitate Lucy’s forced marriage to Drebber.

Let the high God judge between us. Choose and eat. There is death in one and life in the other. I shall take what you leave. Let us see if there is justice upon the earth, or if we are ruled by chance.

Related Characters: Jefferson Hope (speaker), Enoch Drebber
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

After finally getting an opportunity to isolate one of his enemies, Hope forces Drebber to choose between two pills, one of which is poison and the other harmless. He views this as a test of divine justice, letting God decide whether Drebber picks the poison and dies. However, Hope’s premise — that the test will prove that the world is ruled either by divine justice or by chance — is inherently flawed, as Hope implies that divine justice would necessitate Drebber’s death and that only “chance” would necessitate Drebber’s survival. This is illogical, as chance by definition would allow for either eventuality, but it lets Hope feel that he is an agent of divine justice rather than a murderer intent on revenge.

Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

“…It is an open secret that the credit of this smart capture belongs entirely to the well-known Scotland Yard officials, Messrs Lestrade and Gregson. The man was apprehended, it appears, in the rooms of a certain Mr Sherlock Holmes, who has himself, as an amateur, shown some talent in the detective line, and who, with such instructors may hope in time to attain some degree of their skill. It is expected that a testimonial of some sort will be presented to the two officers as a fitting recognition of their services.”

“Didn’t I tell you so when we started?” cried Sherlock Holmes, with a laugh. “That’s the result of all our Study in Scarlet; to get them a testimonial!”

“Never mind,” I answered; “I have all the facts in my journal, and the public shall know them.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John H. Watson (speaker), Jefferson Hope, Lestrade, Tobias Gregson
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

The case now solved, Holmes and Watson discuss the particulars of the case and the newspapers’ account of what happened. Though Holmes is not surprised, Watson is indignant that the newspapers praise Lestrade’s and Gregson’s supposed capture of Jefferson Hope and demean Holmes’ skill as “an amateur.” Though Holmes has been seeking recognition for much of the novel, he is uncharacteristically neutral when Watson declares his intent to publish his own account of the case from his journal. Watson’s publication would inform the public that it was actually Holmes’ superior detective skills and talent that were crucial to Hope’s capture, thereby attaining a form of justice for Holmes by giving him the credit he deserves.