Posted by: anniebutts | October 6, 2010

The Camera and the Eye

Symbolism is my literary weakness. Ever since the idea of Sherlock Holmes as a “camera” himself came up in class, I’ve been thinking about the connection between the human and the camera. I recently decided to do a little research on how cameras work, and came across a picture that took me back to high school Anatomy class. The diagram of a camera that I found struck an uncanny resemblance to the eye diagrams that I remember studying years ago.

I thought it would be interesting to draw attention to how similar these processes are. Light enters the eye/camera, goes through the lens, in reflected, and is eventually processed. Sherlock Holmes, private eye, is undoubtedly symbolic of a literary camera. He takes in every last detail and projects a clear image for the reader to see. In Holmes’ adventures, Doyle even presents him as something more reliable than a camera. When a picture is taken, it can only capture an image within the frame, but Holmes has more freedom than that. He is able to evaluate every detail without the limitations of a frame.

I was particularly struck by one particular passage in “A Case of Identity” that demonstrates Holmes’ camera-like qualities. After asking Watson to describe a woman that they had just seen, Holmes says, “You did not know where to look, and so you missed all that was important. I can never bring you to realise the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumbnails, or the great issues that hang from a bootlace” (Doyle 47). Holmes collects all of this data through careful observation, and his attention to detail is like that of a photograph. Very few literary characters have an eye as sharp as Sherlock Holmes’, but I think that the concept of using the senses (particularly sight) to create portraiture in literature is noteworthy.


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