The Red-Headed League

by

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Red-Headed League Symbol Analysis

Red-Headed League Symbol Icon

The titular Red-Headed League is the literal red-herring of the story, and it symbolizes the consequences of getting too caught up in appearances. Criminals John Clay and Archie invented the league as a ruse to get Jabez Wilson out of the house for four hours every day. Clay (in disguise as Wilson’s assistance, Vincent Spaulding), shows Wilson a job advertised in the newspaper by the league, and encourages him to apply for the role. He claims that Wilson would be a perfect fit, thanks to his “fiery” red hair—the newspaper ad states that one must be red-headed to apply. The story is that the Red-Headed League was founded by an eccentric millionaire with red hair, and was intended to provide for men who are also red-headed. Thus, even the fictitious league is itself founded on appearances, which is an early indication that it is not to be trusted.

Sherlock Holmes is only able to solve the mystery because of his ability to see beyond the façade of the league. Sherlock alone realizes that John Clay and his accomplice, Archie, created the league as a distraction from the true nature of the crime. Through Holmes’ skillful deduction, Conan Doyle reminds the reader not to assume significance in something just because it might seem more interesting or ostentatious at first glance.

Red-Headed League Quotes in The Red-Headed League

The The Red-Headed League quotes below all refer to the symbol of Red-Headed League. 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

“But we have to be careful, for we have twice been deceived by wigs and once by paint.”

Related Symbols: Red-Headed League
Page Number: 270
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:
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Red-Headed League Symbol Timeline in The Red-Headed League

The timeline below shows where the symbol Red-Headed League 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
Greed Theme Icon
...his story by producing a newspaper advertisement. The advert is a job listing for the Red-Headed League , and it calls for a red-headed man to apply for an unspecified role paying... (full context)
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
...then explains that it was in fact Spaulding who showed him the advertisement for the Red-Headed League in the newspaper, and who encouraged him to apply for the job. Spaulding explained that... (full context)
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
...of work, Wilson arrived only to find a note on the door claiming that the Red-Headed League had been disbanded. (full context)
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
...find some explanation, but found that no one had heard of Duncan Ross or the Red-Headed League . The landlord didn’t know a Duncan Ross but said a solicitor named William Morris... (full context)
The Bizarre vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
Logic and Rationalism  Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
...explaining to Watson how he managed to solve the crime. Firstly, Holmes realized that the Red-Headed League must simply be a ruse intended to keep Wilson out of the shop for several... (full context)