Is it Literature?

“The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” by Robert Doyle met my stylistic expectations of literature; however, the content is unique from typical works of literature taught in school.

In “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” Doyle uses formal techniques and complex style, which coincides with my expectations of literature. For example, Doyle describes Holmes metaphorically as a “filament stretching out and running through [others], responsive to every little rumor or unsolved crime”(17 Doyle). By describing Holmes as the center of a light bulb, Doyle not only conveys Holmes’ brilliance, but also convinces the readers of the legitimacy and eloquence of his writing. The use of figurative language, complex word choice, and elegant description reveal the style of the story as intricate and therefore similar to that of typical literature. Doyle’s allusion to a novel by Edgar Allen Poe is definitely more characteristic of a literary work than a leisure novel. Another aspect of literature that “The Adventure of the Cardboard box” contains is the complexity and emphasis on the characters. In literature, the plot usually develops out of the characters rather than the other way around. Overall, the style and the techniques Doyle uses in his writing are typical of the type of literature taught in school.

Despite the elegance and complexity of the writing, “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” has different content than typical literature taught in school and is less ambiguous. The typical literature taught in school normally contains a social message to people of the time. The content of most typical literature taught in school is grave and confusing. Typical school-taught literature often ends in ambiguity that provokes much thought and is rarely definitive. In Sherlock Holmes, the content of the story is typically a murder mystery. The end of the story is always definitive—who the murderer was and why he did the dead. And while there are certainly times in the story that require great thought, the story does not require the reader to radically challenge any preexisting notions or social conventions. Because of the contextual differences between “The Adventures of the Cardboard Box” and most school taught literature, the novel did not fit my typical characterization of literature.

The novel did not fit my expectations of literature in part because of the narrow definition of literature that is presented to students. In schools everywhere, students are presented with the same few books as literature. To me, this reveals a limitation of the definition of literature. Great ideas can have many different vehicles to best represent them. Why then does literature have to maintain the same rigid format? As technology and communication have evolved, I think we are forced to take a broader look at the different ways of communicating ideas. I personally believe it is possible that a series of emails presented as a collective work could develop characters and ideas as complex and thought provoking as a great work of literature. Unfortunately, these emails no matter how profound would probably never be considered literature because of the lack of literary techniques. Meanwhile, a book like “Sherlock Holmes” can be written with outstanding literary techniques and still not be considered literature because of the jovial tone and childish topic. Both of these works may be as important and eye-opening to read as a work of literature, but because of the limits on the definition of literature, it is only a specific type of book that is taught as literature in school. It all comes down to the definition of literature and whether or not you are willing to open the door to not only new ideas, but also new ways of presenting them.


2 thoughts on “Is it Literature?

  1. I completely agree with your perspective on Doyle’s story and literature that is taught in school. In my high school, we also studied texts which were extremely difficult to decipher and were loaded with literary techniques which did not lend to the understanding of the text easily.
    The examples that you have used help to clarify and quantify what you are saying.


  2. Nick, I really like your analysis. You have managed to balance incredibly specific details without losing your argument. If I had one suggestion, I think you use a few too many “fluff words.” In your first paragraph, you lead your first piece of evidence with “for example.” Now it may seem trivial, but something like this disturbs the pace of your argument, and it really is just not necessary. You can just as easily start that sentence with “Doyle describes …”, or if that feels too abrupt, you can give some brief context for the story before you start your argument, but not too much. Another thing you can do is restructure some of your sentences so that they are more assertive. What I mean is instead of saying “By describing Holmes as the center of a light bulb, Doyle not only conveys Holmes’ brilliance”; you can say “conveys Holmes’ brilliance by describing Holmes as the center of a light bulb.” This only fortifies the idea that the literature is purposefully trying to what you are arguing.


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