Thursday, April 15, 2010

Holmes' take on drug usage

Today in class we discussed the general themes that Sherlock Holmes seems to address. We decided that the book advocates middle class education and training, comments on the corruption of the upper class, stresses that all of the social entanglements caused by upper class corruption and problems with the middle class must be fixed, claims the superiority of natural law over positive law, and says that the middle class needs to separate themselves from drugs, immorality, and deception. In seems like most of us are in agreement about these general ideas, but I am still struggling with interpreting Doyle's take on drug use. In the stories, Holmes is presented as sort of separate from the middle class, but not quite part of the corrupted upper class either. He acts as a role model that Watson and the rest of the middle class should follow. Holmes can recognize the "types" (or stereotypes) that everyone around him sees, yet he is not confined by them - he recognizes individuals as well. In every way he acts as the role model for Britain's middle-class. Where, then, does his drug use fit in? If he is actually a role model, and engages in opium and cocaine use, then is Doyle advocating the use of drugs? The rest of the book makes clear that Doyle believes the rampant drug use within his country to be a serious problem, but I think that Holmes' use compromises that message.

In addition, someone's response to my question about this today was that Holmes recognizes natural law as superior to positive law. But positive law in Britain at the time allowed opium use, whereas natural law clearly recognizes drugs as bad. By using drugs, Holmes appears to support positive law in place of natural law. Anyway, I'm still having trouble processing this so if anyone could clarify it would be a big help.


  1. The way I saw Holmes' drug use was that Doyle recognizes his hero has flaws. Even Holmes, the rational machine, falls prey to the corruption of society through drug use. This makes him more human/more real (I think Nate mentioned that we like Batman better because he's simply human instead of super-human) and allows the readers to connect with him more. Perhaps, then, Doyle is arguing against the then-current positive law in Britain that allowed for drug use--if someone as brilliant as Holmes can become enslaved to opium, how much more are the "lesser" minds subject to addiction? In a roundabout way, Doyle might be arguing for natural law--obviously the drugs are bad and affect Holmes' abilities. Even if Holmes doesn't recognize it explicitly in the text, the readers do.

  2. I don't think that drugs are clearly bad by natural law. Overuse of them is but there are ways in which drugs can be successfully managed and used for medicinal benefit. With that said I think that Holmes does try to use drugs in moderation but his failure to manage them shows more that he is both human and also still subject to being hurt by the sickness of empire.