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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
A central theme of the story is the appeal of intelligence as illustrated through Sherlock’s relationships with both Adler and Watson. Holmes eschews most relationships because he doesn't have the time or inclination for them, but he is drawn to Adler due to her intellect, and he’s not the only one; the King and Norton both find Adler’s intellect to be one of her most alluring traits. The story’s focus on her intelligence implies that intelligence is just as appealing as good looks, a sense of humor, or any other quality people seek in relationships. Adler also finds Sherlock’s intellect desirable in turn; she is drawn to him even though she’s already in love with Norton.
Furthermore, the captivating nature of intelligence is not reserved for romantic relationships. The intellectual connection between Watson and Holmes also dominates the story, which posits the idea that mentally stimulating relationships are preferential and superior to other relationships. Watson, having only been married for a brief period, cannot resist the pull of his old friend working on a new case. Their intellectual banter has become one of Watson’s favorite pastimes. As the case gets more exciting and hurtles toward its conclusion, Watson does not even want to go home to his wife. Instead, he chooses to sleep at Holmes's apartment so that he doesn't miss anything. In the world of Sherlock Holmes, intelligence is the most alluring feature a person can have.
Although Sherlock Holmes is the protagonist and hero of the story, he frequently engages in morally gray behavior by deceiving others. A master of disguise, Holmes feels no compunction about pretending to be a groom to get information about Adler from her employees. In another scene, he comes to Adler's home dressed as a clergyman, a symbol of morality, and he uses the outfit to gain her trust. He further deceives her when he uses fake blood to gain her sympathy. Holmes takes no issue with lying, not even about playacting as a man of God, which suggests that to Holmes, the ends justify the means. As a detective not confined by the law in the same way a policeman might be, getting to the truth is the ultimate goal, no matter what it takes. In fact, Holmes has no issue with breaking the law or encouraging Watson to do so in order to solve the mystery. That Watson readily agrees when Holmes assures him it’s for a good cause illustrates how Holmes’s view of morality infects those around him, despite Watson’s later misgivings. In the end, Holmes operates outside the law because of the sensitivity of the case in question and accomplishes what the police wouldn’t have been able to, suggesting some problems can’t be solved within the proper channels and that morality isn’t black and white.
Holmes's talent for deduction shows just how much can be inferred by paying close attention to details. By continually describing how he uses details to draw logical conclusions, Holmes conducts a masterclass in deduction. Holmes is able to solve mysteries and guess things he shouldn't be able to know all because he is very good at paying attention to and thinking about the details he observes. Early in the story, Watson tells readers that Holmes accepts the cases the police can't seem to solve, suggesting that Holmes has greater powers of deduction than the detectives paid to solve crimes. Later, Holmes comments that the people who have previously attempted to obtain the photographs from Adler failed to find them because they went about it incorrectly. In contrast, Holmes examines and analyzes every detail until the truth reveals itself. It's Holmes's talent with analysis that helps him to turn each detail into information he can use. However, Holmes always explains each detail he observes and what he learned from it, showing that all of the answers are out in the open where everyone can see them. Data drives all of Holmes’s revelations. He always observes before making a guess. All of this serves to demonstrate that people just need to be better observers in order to be good detectives.