The Hound of the Baskervilles: Theme Analysis
The Pressure of the Past: “The past is never dead,” wrote William Faulkner; “it’s not even past.” His sentiment certainly captures one of the thematic preoccupations of The Hound of the Baskervilles: the pervasive presence of what has gone before. Various characters in the book are coping (or, in some cases, failing to cope) with the burdens of their past. Sir Charles and Sir Henry, for instance, are both confronted with the legacy of their family name: the purported ribaldry of Hugo Baskerville, who looms large in family lore as a “wild, profane and godless man,” has cast a blight upon the Baskerville reputation and, of course, is the ostensible basis for the “curse” of the hell-hound. Baskerville Hall lies in disrepair, a visual reminder of the family’s disrepute, which Sir Henry is motivated to attempt to rebuild. That decision brings his course into collision with that of Jack Stapleton—of course, we learn at the novel’s end, is in fact another member of the Baskerville line—who is also attempting to escape his past as a criminal (his embezzlement of public funds) but who can only plot to do so through further criminal activity (his plots to kill both the masters of Baskerville Hall in order to inherit their legacy). The setting of the novel’s events itself reminds us of how the past is always with us, since Baskerville Hall is built on a moor that is populated by huts dating back to Britain’s Stone Age. Thus, in its plot and its setting, Conan Doyle’s novel asserts that none can escape the task of dealing with the unfinished business of one’s personal past as well as that of past generations—one can only choose how one will do so.
The Uncertain Future: A further temporal theme in The Hound of the Baskervilles is the anxiety with which Britain faced the dawning of the 20th century. The age of the British Empire, upon which once “the sun had never set,” was ending; society was shifting; the...