Grit, Analysis 2: Sherlock Holmes

When I first read “A Study in Scarlet”, I never considered the possibility that Sherlock Holmes exhibited several defining traits of autism and viewed the character as merely eccentric. As I began to read it again for this assignment, however, I found that I could identify several specific instances where the description of Sherlock’s behavior appears to indicate that he represents an autistic character.

Sherlock displays an obsession or dedication to one specific field of learning as is commonly found in those on the spectrum. As his character is first introduced, he is celebrating his forensic discovery of a solution which only produces a precipitate when it comes into contact with blood, which is the first indication of his obsession with crime. Then as he explains his discovery to Watson and Stamford, he displays an extensive knowledge of past crimes and the potential for forensic evidence to have altered the outcome of the trials to which Stamford remarks “You (Sherlock) seem to be a walking calendar of crime” (7). When Watson accompanies Sherlock to the crime scene on Brixton Road, he describes Sherlock writing “So engrossed was he with his occupation that he appeared to have forgotten our presence, for he chattered away to himself under his breath the whole time, keeping up a running fire of exclamations, groans, whistles, and little cries suggestive of encouragement and hope” (16). Sherlock becomes completely enthralled in mystery and the solving of crimes through his methods of “deduction”.

Along with his dedication to deduction, Sherlock has a tendency to play his violin when he is troubled and needs to think. This repetitive behavior could be considered an indication of autistic ritual, while each case is different (my uncle sways from side to side when he is troubled or upset), perhaps Sherlock’s way of coping with disturbance is to sit with his violin as he reflects on the particulars of a case. When Sherlock describes his “shortcomings”, he tells Watson that “I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end” (7). This silent period could also be an indication of autism as it seems to be a routine for Sherlock and a coping mechanism.

Watson also describes Sherlock as lacking in social graces as he writes after a conversation with Sherlock “I felt rather indignant at having two characters whom I had admired treated in this cavalier style” (12). Sherlock details the faults of these two character’s in conversation with Watson, seemingly oblivious to the offense he may have caused Watson in his statements. This slight social lacking could be indicative of autistic characteristics in Sherlock as well. In an article I found which discusses the idea of Sherlock as a potentially autistic character Dr. Lisa Sanders describes this phenomenon as “mind-blindness” defining this term as “difficulty in understanding what others feel or think and thus in forming relationships” (3). She also describes Sherlock’s incredible skills of deduction saying “He (Sherlock) demonstrates what Asperger called ‘autistic intelligence’- an ability to see the world from a very different perspective than most people, often by focusing on details overlooked by others” (3). With both my observations and those of Dr. Lisa Sanders, I can now see that Sherlock Holmes is very likely an autistic character.

Sanders, Lisa. Hidden Clues. N.p.: The New York Times, 2009. 1-4. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.

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One thought on “Grit, Analysis 2: Sherlock Holmes

  1. vanords

    First off, I thought your analysis on Sherlock “The Study in Scarlet” was very well put. I agree with your observations of Sherlock and how you came to understand that he appears to be an autistic character in fiction.
    Now that I’ve read about Sherlock and have had the chance to read other people’s opinions on him I can see that Sherlock absolutely possesses autistic behaviors and characteristics. Before reading about Sherlock for this class the only history I’ve had with the character is through reading the Poe version and seeing the movie with Robert Downy Jr. Before this class I had never looked into the character or thought anything of his “strange tendencies” besides finding him quirky and chalking it up to his unusual intelligence. Now comparing Sherlock with typical traits of someone with autism it makes sense; Sherlock certainly obsesses over specific areas of knowledge, plays his violin for comfort and processing, demonstrates depressive behavior common in people with autism, and also lacks the awareness of some social standards and ques that others are aware of.
    Now that I see Sherlock in a light of autism, I have a hard time trying to consider it a “disability”. I’ve always thought Sherlock was cool and capable of superhuman intelligence and crime-solving skills. That hasn’t changed for me. But what has changed is the way I view people with autism. Not to say that before I thought less of someone with autism but I never did expect to see someone using what is thought of as a disability to be better off than the neurotypical. Sherlock may be lacking in social graces but he uses his ways of thinking clearly, unemotionally, and his ability to assess situations with great detail to do something very well that his neurotypical, detective partners don’t do as well and I think that is very cool.
    Although, because Sherlock doesn’t have any huge struggles that inhibit him from functioning well in his daily life, he must be very high functioning. My low functioning family friends wouldn’t be able to be as adventurous as Sherlock is or be able to conform to change as well as Sherlock appears to.
    Overall I’m surprised that Sherlock has changed my views a little bit and expanded them for the better. I feel more open to seeing autistic characters as genuine, crime-fighting, quick-thinking, suave heroes and less in an angelic light as characters who are sweet and don’t do anything intentionally wrong.

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