Cool as a Cucumber…Or Not

By repeatedly referring to cucumbers throughout “The Mystery of the Spanish Shawl”, Agatha Christie portrays Anthony Eastwood’s character as a prideful and inquisitive man who becomes easily flustered in his indecision.

 

The author utilizes the word ‘cucumber’ as a gateway between Eastwood’s normal life and the one he wishes to write about, giving insight to his character. While looking around the antique glass shop, Eastwood has trouble deciding whether or not to say the codeword ‘cucumber’. Christie writes, “Mr. Eastwood felt that he was laying up trouble for himself…And yet he could not bring himself to leave the shop” (189). His reluctance to leave reveals his longing for an adventure and an intriguing story. However, the need to create a riveting novel is overshadowed by his indecision to say the password, thus a product of his hesitant nature. The mental battle ensuing in his mind shows how difficult it is for him to make the transition between ‘his’ world and the one of mystery. Christie writes, “He became desperate…What in the devil did it matter what [the shopkeeper] thought? ‘Cucumber,’ he said, clearly and firmly” (189-190). After much deliberation, Eastwood’s inquisitive nature takes the reins and he eventually says the password to get upstairs and into the action. After he finally says ‘cucumber’ to the shopkeeper, he immediately enters into a world much different than his own that is full of mystery, inspiration, and danger. The word is used as a password for him to physically get upstairs; however, it also is a means for him to continue on the journey of finding a story. Agatha Christie portrays Eastwood’s mental dilemma through his decision of whether or not to say ‘cucumber.’ Through the use of this word, Christie juxtaposes the two choices Eastwood has, which further allows his character to develop in the larger context of the short story.

Why Not Both?

In A Study in Emerald, by Neil Gaiman, the narrator and his friend are never named so the reader assumes they are Watson and Sherlock Holmes, but a plot twist at the end leaves the reader wondering if Vernet and his Doctor friend are the real Sherlock and Watson, but what if they are both right?

            In a world were an alien race with green blood and three arms rule the human race, two men become housemates. One of these men is a military veteran with a wounded shoulder, who is our narrator. Our narrator could be Watson, because of the way he is intrigued, yet gets annoyed by his housemate’s actions and words. An example of this is “He was a mystery to me” (423) and “My friend returned to perusing his morning paper. I waited for an explanation with growing impatience. Finally, I could stand it no longer.” (423) The Narrator’s house mate could be Sherlock, because of is arrogant sassy attitude. For example “He smiled thinly. ‘You did not hear the clatter of the brougham several minutes ago?…’” (423) Vernet could be Sherlock, because of his cleverness and the fact that he escaped. As well as the fact that he spoke with the narrator’s friend years before. “ Indeed, I corresponded with you quite profitably two years ago about certain theoretical anomalies in your paper on the Dynamics of an Asteroid. Vernet’s Doctor friend could be Watson, because Watson was a doctor in the military. The Doctor friend also has a limp, and in the BBC Sherlock Watson walked with a limp that Sherlock pointed out. 

Power in the hands of the few

In A Study in Emerald, written by Neil Gaiman, the use of heavy allusion to Lovecraft’s “The Call of the Cthulhu” along with Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet helps to create a new dynamic toward the familiarity.

The Great Old Ones are a symbol of power and authority. In the fictional world of A Study in Emerald, the Old Ones hold all of the authoritative positions in Europe. The arrival of the Old Ones centuries before the story took place created a world of “peace and prosperity (435)” out of “a world of barbarism and darkness (431)”. However, their arrival was initially met with resistance, which turns the moon into a crimson color that could represents the bloodshed which had occurred. Once they have seized power, the Old Ones maintain their position for hundreds of years. Written in 2003, A Study in Emerald could represents Gailman’s effort to call out for the awareness of what was going on around the world at the time. The year 2003 marks the beginning of the Iraq War as well as the continuation of the ongoing War in Afghanistan. The Old Ones in the story is a possible metaphor for the leaders of the Western World. The story also mention of a group of Restorationists who wishes to restore the balance before the time of the Old Ones. Rache, being one of the Restorationists, have seen the effect of what these Old Ones can do. Their treatment to some humans is “like a man sucking the flesh from a ripe peach, leaving nothing behind but the skin and the pit (435).” Analogous to what was happening at the time, the Restorationists could be compare to terrorists who wish to stop the leaders of the west from invading their beloved land, with some intention of taking the natural resources. In conclusion, the Old Ones, much like the leaders of the Western World, have in their hands great responsibilities. The decision of what they do with that responsibility shall determine the fate of the human race.

Mystery Through Familiarity

Gaiman cleverly misdirects the reader into believing that the narrator and his friend are the iconic Watson and Holmes in order to create a sense of mystery surrounding the duo and give the reader the comfort of familiarity only to provide a surprise twist in the end.

At the end of the story, the murderous accomplice of Vernet is revealed to be “John (or perhaps James) Watson” which leads the reader to question what happened to Watson and Holmes to lead the iconic duo to commit murder. It is then hinted that Vernet is Holmes because he not only outwits the narrator’s detective friend, but also suggested some “wild theories furthering the relationship between mass, energy, and the hypothetical speed of light”. The reader knows from “A Study in Scarlet” that Holmes knew certain useful aspects of the sciences which would lead many to conclude that Holmes is Vernet. This would lead the reader into many questions surrounding the duo which in this tale have been revealed to be anarchists. Perhaps the duo became tired of the old mundane bureaucratic police system when the government botched an important case and now seek to overthrow it. With Holmes’s apparent interest in mass energy and the speed of light, for which an equation was derived by Einstein that was vital in creating the atomic bomb, the reader also gets a sense that something has gone horribly wrong. Finally the narrator teases that an event happened in Russia, perhaps another royal death, only bringing further questions into Watson and the detective’s decent. None of this intrigue could have been accomplished to this wild scale had it not been for the initial misdirection of thinking the narrator and his friend were Watson and Holmes. Shock tends to lead to intrigue, and by providing the reader with familiarity, Gaiman created a lot of mystery.

A “Rache” for his lover or himself?

In A Study in Scarlet, it seems to us that Hope had spent so many years of planning and plotting to avenge his lover Lucy Ferrier. However, there is a possibility that he killed Drebber and Stangerson because he refused to give in and accept the fact that they had ruined his engagement.

When he got back to Salt Lake City, Lucy had already married to Drebber. Nonetheless, he did not plan to elope or have a runaway with her. It is skeptical that he did not look for Lucy immediately. Instead, he “strode off down the gorge and so away into the heart of the mountains to the haunts of the wild beasts” (Conan Doyle 107), heading to nowhere. If he was so in love with Lucy, he would have gone to find her right away when he knew that she was forced to marry Drebber. On the other hand, the author described him as more “fierce” and “dangerous” than the beasts. I doubt if he was in rage only for Drebber ruining his engagement and marrying the woman he loved. I also expected that he was sorrowful more than angry because Lucy had married a guy who did not love her at all and only aimed at her father’s properties. Until a month after the marriage of Drebber and Lucy, when Lucy pined away and died, Hope reappeared on the day before her funeral all of a sudden. Again, I expected that he would have at least taken her body with him and buried her at somewhere else. However, what he did was just kissed her, took away her wedding ring and then fled. Interestingly, the wedding ring appeared again in a later chapter. Hope “held the wedding ring in front of his eyes” and forced him to think of Lucy before he died (Conan Doyle 119). I suspect that the ring was being symbolized as Lucy by Hope. He used this ring to tell Drebber that he could never take her away from him. In this man-to-man war, Drebber has lost and he was going to die. In conclusion, Hope is a man with a strong possessive personality and his revenge is only a tool mainly to fulfill his urge to kill people who had blocked his way.

 

Trust

Jefferson Hope, the murderer of two victims in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, is not as safe as Holmes and Watson believe. The characters decide to remove their safety measures from the murderer and let him become comfortable after deciding he is of no threat. However, the assumption that Hope is docile in these scenes is unreasonable. While he is physically weak and incapable of much, his emotional state and actions say otherwise. An example of when Hope displays his potential dangerousness is highlighted when “the prisoner wrenched himself free from Home’s grasp, and hurled himself through the window.” (66-67). He may have not gotten far, but nonetheless his intent is clearly shown. Jefferson Hope, provided he was physically able, would have been a tremendous threat that Holmes and Watson seemed to brush aside when they un-cuffed him and nonchalantly interviewed him. Hope’s abilities and desires are downplayed by Watson and Holmes and therefore show a weakness in the way the team conducts their business.