Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Seeing vs. Observing

In class on Tuesday we ended talking about the difference between seeing and observing. Watson sees everything, but he overlooks the important details.
In "The Red-Handed League," Watson tries to analyze Mr. Jabez Wilson "after the fashion of my companion to read hte indications which might be presented by his dress or appearance."
However, he only notices his clothing and concludes that "there was nothing remarkable about the man save his blazing red head, and the expression of extreme chagrin and discontent upon his features."
In a matter of mere minutes though, Holmes has figured out that this man has "done manual labor, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately."
Watson sees what is on the exterior, but usually does not get past the colors and shapes of the clothing, which are details that could be important, but are sometimes irrelevant.
According to, to observe is: to see, watch, perceive, or notice and to regard with attention, esp. so as to see or learn something.
In each of the cases, it is meticulous observation that solves the crime.
So the difference between seeing and observing? Seeing is looking on the surface that the coat is red, but observing is noticing that the sleeves are too short, and too tight around the shoulders, indicating that the wearer is strapped for cash or has little time/does not care to shop. (Ok, so maybe not such a great example but I'm not Sherlock Holmes.)


  1. I was also thinking about the difference between seeing and observing. Although these stories are very different from the Gothic pieces we read earlier in the semester, Holmes seems to inhibit the same kind of supernatural powers that were very prevalent in Gothic Literature. This supernatural power allows him to penetrate the exterior of what he sees and to understand situations that would never be obvious to anyone else like Watson. Therefore, in addition to his similarities to a camera, there is a sense that he has an enhanced rationality that helps him solve mysteries. Like Clara mentions, this enhanced rationality and attention to detail really helps him imagine different scenarios that eventually help him solve the cases. This brings me on to my next point... I believe Doyle wanted to use Sherlock's great imagination as the one factor that isolates him from everyone else in the book like the supernatural did in Gothic literature. His imagination and his enhanced rationality is what it very hard for him to create bonds with other people like "the woman" in the passage we read in class. Its his imagination and enhanced rationality that makes him almost like a machine.

  2. This goes along with what we discussed in class this morning about types and individuals. Watson looks at people as types while Holmes combines both to solve the mystery. The passage from the "Red-Handed league" is a great example of this idea. I think you explained the definition of observing really well and it is very easy to see how it applies in the stories. Waston looks at the broad picture while Holmes captures the retails and the bigger perspective.