The Red-Headed League

by

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Sherlock Holmes Character Analysis

The protagonist of the story, Sherlock Holmes is a private detective who works alongside his assistant and friend, Dr. John Watson. Jabez Wilson, a pawnbroker who lives next door to a bank, employs Holmes and Watson to solve the mystery of the titular Red-Headed League. As always, Holmes uses the power of logic and rationalism in order to solve the crime. Throughout the story, Holmes picks up on minute details that other people miss, and is able to use these details to deduce the facts of the crime. For example, when he pays a visit to Wilson’s assistant, Vincent Spaulding, Holmes notices that the man’s knees are incredibly dirty. This detail, which Watson overlooks, confirms Holmes’ suspicions that Spaulding is actually criminal mastermind John Clay, and that he is digging a tunnel from Wilson’s cellar to the bank’s cellar so that he can rob the bank and escape undetected. Holmes is presented as a superior character in the story, both in terms of his intellect and dedication to helping others. Nevertheless, he is not the most easygoing of characters. He certainly has a high opinion of himself, and is quick to talk down to others if he assumes them to be wrong. He sharply rebukes Mr. Merryweather, for instance, for making too much noise as they wait for the criminals. He is also sharp with Watson, but this does not stop the men from maintaining a very close friendship.

Sherlock Holmes Quotes in The Red-Headed League

The The Red-Headed League quotes below are all either spoken by Sherlock Holmes or refer to Sherlock Holmes. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bantam Classics edition of The Red-Headed League published in 1986.
The Red-Headed League Quotes

I took a good look at the man and endeavoured, after the fashion of my companion, to read the indications which might be presented by his dress or appearance. I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection. Our visitor bore every mark of being an average commonplace British tradesman, obese, pompous, and slow. He wore rather baggy gray shepherd's check trousers, a not over-clean black frock-coat, unbuttoned in the front, and a drab waistcoat with a heavy brassy Albert chain, and a square pierced bit of metal dangling down as an ornament. […] there was nothing remarkable about the man save his blazing red head.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Sherlock Holmes, Jabez Wilson
Page Number: 264-65
Explanation and Analysis:

“Well, I never!” said he. “I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it, after all.”

Related Characters: Jabez Wilson (speaker), Sherlock Holmes
Page Number: 266
Explanation and Analysis:

“I should not wish a smarter assistant, Mr. Holmes; and I know very well that he could better himself and earn twice what I am able to give him.”

Page Number: 267
Explanation and Analysis:

“As a rule,” said Holmes, “the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be. It is your commonplace, featureless crimes which are really puzzling, just as a commonplace face is the most difficult to identify.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), Dr. John Watson
Related Symbols: Red-Headed League
Page Number: 276
Explanation and Analysis:

It was instantly opened by a bright-looking, clean-shaven young fellow, who asked him to step in.

Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:

“I am sure that you inquired your way merely in order that you might see him.”

“Not him.”

“What then?”

“The knees of his trousers.”

“And what did you see?”

“What I expected to see.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), John Clay / Vincent Spaulding
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:

“I should like just to remember the order of the houses here. It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London. There is Mortimer's, the tobacconist, the little newspaper shop, the Coburg branch of the City and Suburban Bank, the Vegetarian Restaurant, and McFarlane's carriage-building depot. That carries us right on to the other block.”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), Dr. John Watson
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

[…] his brilliant reasoning power would rise to the level of intuition, until those who were unacquainted with his methods would look askance at him as on a man whose knowledge was not that of other mortals.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Sherlock Holmes
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

I trust that I am not more dense than my neighbours, but I was always oppressed with a sense of my own stupidity in my dealings with Sherlock Holmes. Here I had heard what he had heard, I had seen what he had seen, and yet from his words it was evident that he saw clearly not only what had happened but what was about to happen, while to me the whole business was still confused and grotesque.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Sherlock Holmes
Page Number: 279
Explanation and Analysis:

“You may place considerable confidence in Mr. Holmes, sir,” said the police agent loftily. “He has his own little methods, which are, if he won't mind my saying so, just a little too theoretical and fantastic, but he has the makings of a detective in him. It is not too much to say that once or twice, as in that business of the Sholto murder and the Agra treasure, he has been more nearly correct than the official force.”

Related Characters: Detective Jones (speaker), Sherlock Holmes
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

Holmes shot the slide across the front of his lantern and left us in pitch darkness—such an absolute darkness as I have never before experienced.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Sherlock Holmes
Related Symbols: Bank Cellar
Page Number: 283
Explanation and Analysis:
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Sherlock Holmes Character Timeline in The Red-Headed League

The timeline below shows where the character Sherlock Holmes appears in The Red-Headed League. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Red-Headed League
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
John Watson arrives at Sherlock Holmes’ apartment to find him talking to an elderly man with “fiery red hair.” Holmes seems... (full context)
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Watson attempts to figure out some aspects of Wilson’s character by observing his appearance, as Holmes usually does. However, Watson does not manage to deduce very much. The only “remarkable” aspect... (full context)
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Holmes notices what Watson is doing and smiles at him, before revealing his own conclusions about... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Wilson thinks Holmes is impressive, but also notes how simple Holmes’ technique seems once it has been explained.... (full context)
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
...for an unspecified role paying four pounds a week. Watson is amazed. With a laugh, Holmes remarks that it is a “little off the beaten track.” (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
...Coburg Square, and has an assistant who is luckily willing to work for half wages. Holmes asks him further questions about the assistant, and Wilson explains that his name is Vincent... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Holmes promises Wilson that he will solve his case, but first asks a few further questions... (full context)
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Holmes asks Watson what he thinks of the case, but Watson is completely dumbfounded by the... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Holmes wants to go out for the afternoon to think, and asks Watson to come with... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Finally, Holmes knocks on the door, and a “bright-looking, clean-shaven young fellow” answers. Holmes asks for directions... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Holmes then walks around the property and observes the neighboring buildings. He explains to Watson that... (full context)
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Holmes asks Watson to meet him at ten that night at Holmes’ apartment on Baker Street,... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Later that night, Holmes and Watson reconvene. They are joined by Detective Jones, the policeman assigned to the case,... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
...of the bank, which is filled with crates of French gold, yet to be unpacked. Holmes tells everyone to be quiet and still, especially Merryweather, who is currently tapping the floor... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
As Mr. Merryweather taps on the floor of the bank cellar to demonstrate to Holmes how thick the floor is, he notices how hollow it suddenly sounds. Holmes bends down... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Holmes at last extinguishes his lamp, telling everyone to wait silently in the dark cellar for... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
Suddenly, Holmes springs from his hiding place and grabs the boy. The boy’s accomplice, Archie, plunges back... (full context)
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
Holmes ends the story by explaining to Watson how he managed to solve the crime. Firstly,... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
When he went to visit Wilson’s property, Holmes carefully observed the nearby buildings and realized that there was a bank only meters away... (full context)
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Greed Theme Icon
Watson praises Holmes for his remarkable work, declaring that Holmes “reasoned it out beautifully.” Holmes brushes off Watson’s... (full context)