Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Superstition and Folk Tales

The story opens with the folk tale of the Baskerville curse, presented on 18th century parchment. The reproduction of the curse, both in the novel and in Mortimer's reading, serves to start the story off with a bang-a shadowy folk tale, nothing if not mysterious. At the same time, it offers a nice contrast to Watson's straight-forward reporting, a style insisted upon by the master and one which will ultimately dispel any foolish belief in curses and hounds of hell.

Red Herring

A classic of the mystery/detective genre, the red herring throws us off the right trail. Much like the folk tale, it offers a too-easy answer to the question at hand, tempting us to take the bait and making fools of us if we do. In The Hounds of the Baskervilles, the largest red herring is the convict. After all, who better to pin a murder on than a convicted murderer. Barrymore's late-night mischief turns out to be innocent, and the convicted murderer turns out to not be involved in the mysterious deaths.

Disguised Identities

Mr. Stapleton makes use of several disguised identities throughout the novel, much like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. When he first appears, stalking Sir Henry, he tells the cab driver that he is Sherlock Holmes to add plausible justification to his snooping, and also, presumably, as a warning to Holmes himself. We later learn that this easy use of false names is habit for Mr. Stapleton, who sheds names when they become inconvenient. When he moves from Costa Rica to England, he changes his name from Baskerville to Vandeleur. As his full name matches his father’s, Rodger Baskerville, who initially left England in disgrace, we may infer that he wished to avoid the associations with this name. When the school he founds falls into scandal, he once again changes his name to Jack Stapleton. He further forces his wife, Beryl Garcia, to change her name and even pose as his sister for the sake of his plans. Despite all these layers of deception, Holmes is able to unmask him not only through a paper trail, but through the portrait of Hugo Baskerville, suggesting that his true nature and aristocratic origins cannot actually be disguised.