John Watson: Backbone of the World's Greatest Detective

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Simone Fields
John Watson: Backbone of the World’s Greatest Detective
October 3, 2012

Almost all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories are written in the same format. The Sherlock Holmes stories usually employ the same pattern: a crime is committed, Holmes is brought in, his deductive skills are revealed, an investigation is launched, the perpetrator is caught, and Watson is finally clued into every detail. Even though the structure of the narratives does not change, each story is refreshing, because not only is the case exceedingly different, but Watson is also able to bring new insight about the characters into each story. With Watson as the narrator not only is the reader able to engage in a thrilling mystery, but he also has the ability to delve deeper into the life of Holmes with Watson as Holmes’ biographer. Without Watson, the reader would receive no insight into the world of Sherlock Holmes; therefore, Watson is the key to the understanding the reader has for the man that is Sherlock Holmes.

Watson is vital to the structure of the stories because he is the sole eyewitness- aside from Holmes- throughout all of the cases. His attendance in the story allows him to give a play by play of the events happening at any given moment. This creates a tether between Watson and the readers and allows them to follow the cases along with Watson. The only drawback to Watson’s narration is that even though he is a present observer in the story, he tends to miss crucial information about the case. Because of this, he is frequently in the dark about Holmes’ theories and methods to solving a case; this puts the readers at a disadvantage because they become just as lost as Watson. Watson is only able to obtain pertinent information because Holmes often takes the time to explain his thought processes and procedures to him. Since he is able to acquire this information from Holmes, he can then relay it to the reader and thus become the narrator. Consequentially, Watson not only becomes the link between the reader and the story, but he allows the reader to become a part of the story by providing a detailed and engaging first person narration that gives the reader the feeling of being transported into the adventure. However, because of his eagerness, good nature and generally warm feelings towards Holmes, he enlivens the story and by giving detailed insight on Holmes’ interactions with his clients and his character traits, he transforms it from a mere recounting of a crime into a study of human nature.

John Watson is not only the narrator of the story, but he also takes on the role of Holmes’ biographer. He feels that Holmes’ “keen, incisive reasoning [and] quick subtle methods” (13) should be recognized. During the start of the Watson/Holmes relationship, Holmes was less than impressed with Watson’s biographical efforts because he “put colour and life into each of [his] statements, instead of confining [himself] to the task of placing upon record that sever reasoning from cause to effect which is really the only notable feature” (293). However, this criticism did not last long and Holmes soon began to value having Watson as his chronicler. In taking on the role of Holmes’ profiler, Watson has the freedom of selection, in that he can pick and choose to write about the specific cases that highlight Holmes’ abilities and personality. Often times he chooses to dwell on Holmes’ success rather than his failures, the only exception being that of the Irene Adler case in “A Scandal in Bohemia”. He is dedicated to selecting cases that will accurately display Holmes’ wide range of mental qualities as well as the ones that provide insight as to what he is like as a person.

In conjunction with being the narrator of the stories and Holmes’ biographer, John Watson is also his comrade and “sidekick”. Even though he rarely admits it, Holmes values Watson’s camaraderie as is apparent when he states, “I am lost without my Boswell” (6). As Holmes’...
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