I used the visualization tool Voyant in order to create a World Cloud for the Sherlock Homes short story, A Case of Identity.
Since it is known that the World Cloud is a visualization of a Sherlock Holmes story, I added “Holmes” to the list of stop words, as well as “said.” These words, though used the most often, were irrelevant to the real analysis of the World Cloud.
Though little can be told about the plot of A Case of Identity from this visualization alone, it helps in pointing out who the story mainly revolves around. The words “Hosmer,” “Windibank,” and “Angel” appear 23, 20, and 19 times respectively throughout the text. Readers could infer that these are the main characters and upon reading the full text would discover that “Hosmer Angel” and “Windibank” are actually the same person.
Next to “Holmes,” which appeared 28 times in the text and was deleted from the Word Cloud, the next most often used word was “little.” This was surprising, as having read the text before creating this visualization, the word “little” seems to have nothing at all to do with the plot of the story. Upon further analysis, however, it can be seen that “little,” though not dealing much with the plot, is always used for a particular reason. Often times, it is used to describe Miss Mary Sutherland. Since she is a woman, she is portrayed as being more dainty, and therefore things about her are little, from her “little problem” to her “little handkerchief.” Watson also uses this term to describe Miss Sutherland’s appearance when Holmes asks him too, pointing out the “little black jet ornaments” on her jacket and the “little purple plush” on her dress. Holmes even goes as far as to comment on her “little income.” This use of the world little to describe Miss Mary Sutherland can be interpreted as a way to show readers that though it’s Miss Sutherland’s case that needs solving, Sherlock sees her as just another woman with a “little” and “trite” problem, and therefore, readers should see her this way as well.
While the comments Sherlock sometimes makes can be viewed undoubtedly sexist, I also think it’s important to look at the context of these stories. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote them, this generalization and view of women was the norm. It is only now, reading these stories in the 21st century, that we can point out what it is wrong with some comments made. Back then, this kind of description of women was not seen as an issue. It’s interesting to think, if Word Clouds were used long ago, if the same amount of analysis would be put into the word “little” or even how women were depicted in these Sherlock Holmes’ adventure stories at all.