The Final Problem

The tension and mood is built up in simple yet effective ways. Although the reader knows from the opening paragraphs that Holmes’ demise is near, it remains a shocking conclusion. Holmes asks Watson if he would be “unconventional” when it comes to his departure. Holmes wants to leave by “scrambling” over Watson’s back garden wall. From these things you can sense that Holmes is not his usual self on that day. He is acting differently – full of fear and dread.

The scene where Holmes reveals his knuckles to Watson under the light of the lamp has Conan Doyle telling the reader information about the lighting effects. This helps to imagine the scene and makes the story (and most of the others) very easy to adapt to television or film. The revelation of Holmes’ “burst and bleeding” knuckles and the detail of “the only light in the room” adds dramatic effect to the passage. The words “burst” and “bleeding” are very harsh and abrasive and adds to the realism and tension.

The main theme in “The Final Problem” is duality – the battle within us between good and evil. The conflict between Holmes and Moriarty represents our body’s inner turmoil – our conscience. There are good and evil parts to every one of us and I think Conan Doyle was trying to portray this through his characters. To emphasise the “goodness” of Holmes, Conan Doyle vividly portrays the evil of Moriarty – the “malefactor”. Moriarty is said to “pervade” the streets of London “unchallenged”.

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This makes him seem like he is a criminal mastermind.

The description of the scenery leading up to Holmes’ final destination is engaging and thematically significant. Watson writes about the “blackish” soil, the “incessant” drift that keeps it forever soft. The two lines of footpaths he notices are “both leading away” from him; there were “none returning”. This could be seen as a reflection of the outcome of the story and creates doubt in Watson’s mind as to his friend’s whereabouts. The “brambles and ferns” are both sharp and piercing, representing pain or perhaps even death. They are described as “torn” and “bedraggled”, fringing the “chasm”. The word “chasm” is an abyss, which could represent the forces of evil and death.

As Watson is standing alone, stranded, and fearful of the well-being of his best friend, he cries out; hoping for any kind of response. “I shouted; but only that same half-human cry of the fall was borne back to my ears.” It could be argued that his cry is described “half-human” because he has lost some of himself, his best friend, therefore he feels reduced. In comparison, it could be symbolic of the frailty of man – Watson feels fragile in his situation. In my opinion, it is linked with the theme of duality – the emotional battle which is taking place in Watson’s mind is shown by his heartfelt scream but all that returns to him, through an echo, is a bestial outcry.

Holmes is prepared to “turn to some placid line in life” as long as the man who he thinks is on a “pinnacle in the records of crime” is overcome. The “good” is willing to die as long as the world is ridden of the “evil”. Holmes tells Moriarty “if I were assured of the former eventuality (Moriarty’s death) I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept the latter (His death)”. When Watson finds the note Holmes has written to him, he says that although Holmes knew he was about to breathe his last breath, he still wrote “firm and clear, as though it had been written in his study”.

Holmes, even in a situation like this, is very definite and writes as he would ordinarily. In the letter, Holmes mentions that Moriarty is “awaiting my convenience for the final discussion”. The “final discussion” is their confrontation and the world “final” shows the full seriousness of the event. After Watson reads Holmes letter, he tells the reader of how the two men “ended”, and that the evidence Holmes collected had completely “exposed their organisation”. However, the happy feelings are short-lived as Watson goes on to speak of his best friend.

“him whom I shall ever regard as the best and the wisest man whom I have ever known” This shows us how much respect Watson has for Holmes; he regards him as the “best” man he has ever known. Conan Doyle gives authenticity to his Sherlock Holmes stories by adding ‘factual’ information to the text. For example, in “The Final Problem”, Watson speaks of the “three accounts” of the story of Holmes’ death.

The “Journal de Geneve” on “May 6th, 1981” and “Reuter’s dispatch” in the English papers on “May 7th” both are “extremely condensed” versions of the true story. When Watson first sees Holmes walk into his “consulting-room”, it is on “the evening of the 24th of April”. These little factual details – although not offering a great deal individually – collectively make the story more realistic and appealing. Arthur Conan Doyle has written four novels and fifty-six short stories that comprise the entire Sherlock Holmes saga. His highly entertaining and enjoyable tales of man’s capacity for unpleasantness to his fellow man have made him one of the masters of the detective story genre and therefore one of the highest-selling authors of the 19th Century.

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The Final Problem. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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