The darkness of the bank cellar represents how all of Sherlock Holmes’ accomplices—John Watson, Detective Jones, and Mr. Merryweather—are figuratively “in the dark,” ignorant of the true nature of the crime because they don’t have Holmes’ capacity for deduction. Near the end of the story, Sherlock and his companions wait for the criminals, John Clay and Archie, to appear from the tunnel in the cellar. As soon as Sherlock extinguishes his lamp, the cellar is completely dark. Watson claims that he has never known such “absolute darkness” in his life, which echoes his complete confusion over the case at hand. Sherlock’s lamp represents his enlightened position, having already solved the crime with his advanced rationality. In addition, the cellar, which lies beneath the bank, also symbolizes Sherlock’s ability to see beneath the façade of the Red-Headed League. It is only when Sherlock realizes that John Clay is spending hours in the cellar of Jabez Wilson’s house that he realizes Clay must be digging a tunnel to the cellar of the bank.
The The Red-Headed League quotes below all refer to the symbol of Bank Cellar. 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: 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
The timeline below shows where the symbol Bank Cellar appears in The Red-Headed League. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Red-Headed League
Holmes at last extinguishes his lamp, telling everyone to wait silently in the dark cellar for the criminals to emerge. Watson claims that he has never experienced such “absolute darkness.” (full context)