Reflections From The Front Porch
Written by Darrell Anderson.
More than thirty years ago I was first introduced to the Sherlock Holmes stories. The stories fascinated me as a youth. Although then I was not mature or astute enough to recognize some of the infamous inconsistencies and flaws of the stories, I was fascinated by the Holmes character. His abilities of deduction are worldly famous.
Recently I decided to re-read the famous stories. However, I noticed this time the stories affected me deeply, sometimes to the verge of tears. Not because I noticed some of those infamous inconsistencies and flaws, but because of the story plots and the nature of the Holmes character.
My personal journey the past several years thrust me into a deep internal philosophical inspection of what makes me tick. Through that journey I have grown to better appreciate the human condition — the essence of being human. That journey also has taught me the importance of the seemingly simple concept of justice.
The stories that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote around the Holmes character are in many ways quite moving. Naturally, being the world’s only consulting detective, often but not always crimes were the focus of the stories. Although almost all of the Holmes stories ended with the famous fictional detective successfully solving the case, the story itself often did not end. The stories teach that what constitutes a crime is not necessarily defined by a bunch of self-appointed legislative tinhorns.
Holmes often did not act in a manner that the two-bit tinhorns expected or desired. In several stories Holmes (and Watson) willfully trespass and “burgle.” After solving a mystery, Holmes often allowed the so-called offender to “escape” the clutches of “the law.” Why? Much like the football referee who often sees the second punch and not the first, and as Doyle so aptly showed in his stories, what constitutes the final blow or act that creates the newspaper headlines is not necessarily the original or first crime.
Much like life itself, the Holmes stories are about abusive or awkward relationships, shattered hearts, and “indiscreet” acts that potentially tarnish reputations and careers. At the core of most of the stories is the theme of justice. I do not know if Doyle purposely wove that theme into the Sherlock Holmes stories, if the theme of justice simply arose naturally whenever a story is told about the human condition, or if only I am now only acutely aware of the concept.
Sometimes the Holmes stories showed how several decades were needed before justice was truly satisfied. Sometimes, the reader is not always sure where justice should lie. That is one of the dilemmas that my personal journey has revealed to me. I understand the concept of justice, but I am not always sure how justice can or should be satisfied.
Holmes and Watson always want to maintain basic social order, but are not always on the side of the tinhorns. Holmes often wanted to solve a mystery only for “art’s sake” and often was not concerned with what the tinhorns wanted. That Holmes and Watson in a handful of cases willfully trespassed and burgled to satisfy their own perspective of justice reveals the fine line all humans confront when deciding when justice is best satisfied.
For me, that is a reason why the stories deeply affected me this time. What is justice and how should justice be satisfied? Who shall judge and by what standards shall humans judge one another?
I do not think such questions are easily answered. I also believe that such questions never can be answered by self-appointed two-bit tinhorns, and only victims ever have hope of trying to address such challenging questions. The Sherlock Holmes stories reveal likewise.
Next: Black and White or Gray?