Citizens of the Victorian Era were expected to follow social norms regarding ethnicity that could possibly resolve to discrimination. When reading you can gather to what extent were citizens of the Victorian era willing follow these norms. During the Victorian Era, the British had a strong sense of nationalism. Having a strong sense of nationalism made people feel that they were above all else. Doyle’s views on ethnicity for the Victorian Era are definitely not progressive. The Sign of Four,“ A Scandal in Bohemia”, and “The Yellow Face” all written by Arthur Conan Doyle prove that he did follow social norms regarding ethnicity during the Victorian era.
People are willing to do whatever it takes to follow social norms, not doing so can draw a negative force of attention to the person that breaks these norms. The thought of interracial marriage and biracial children within this Victorian society were not welcomed. Effie, a character in the short story “The Yellow Face”, went to the extent of hiding her child for a total of three years.’’Never for an instant did I dream of disowning her as my child” (Doyle 8). Effie was willing to go against her own conscience and morals, only to follow social norms.
This action was due to the fact that she knew the consequences and possible reactions of the society she was in. Hiding Lucy for the sake of her own good name was following the social norms of the Victorian era. Effie was also hiding Lucy because she did not want to expose her to the toxic prejudice society that would have gossiped and criticised her for her daughter being an African American. After analyzing Effie’s character, the reader can now visualize how these social norms shaped citizens behavior during this time period.
There are many different ways a person can express the way they follow social norms. A lot of times Doyle would have a depiction of a foreign character that can seem sort of negative or not appealing. It is certainly a depiction that modern-day America would never describe a human being or any other large ethnic group from India. In The Sign of Four, Watson’s reaction is as follows “‘ Never have I seen features so deeply marked with bestiality and cruelty”’ (Doyle 204).This creates a negative sense of imagery towards Tonga. This type of depiction goes to prove the point that British people during the Victorian Era were not kind to foreign people. This gives the reader a sense of how nationalistic they actually were.
Not only was Tonga criticized as an individual, Holmes previously gave a horrific description of Tongas native people of India. “ They are naturally hideous, having large, misshapen heads, small fierce eyes . . . These massacres are invariably concluded by a cannibal feast” (Doyle 150). If Holmes was to say that in the twenty-first century, people would have been appalled by this kind of statement.
This kind of response should be the norm and should have been the norms during the Victorian era. Majority of the population in the Victorian era were very careless in their choice of wording when describing someone. Not caring by even considering if what they said had the slightest chance of being offensive to the person they were talking about. If another human being was not British, then they were everything less than the British.
Although Doyle followed social norms of the Victorian era, it is not safe to say that everyone did. It would be unfair to generalize the whole population because odds are, not everyone felt the same way when it came such sensitive topics such as ethnicity. These characters were not bothered by how much they would shock or disgrace the people of their society.
In “The Yellow Face” Grant Munro was one of many noble characters that were willing to disregard these social norms and put their good conscience ahead of them. “He lifted the little child, kissed her, and then, still carrying her, he held his other hand out to his wife and turned towards the door” (Doyle 8). Munro’s actions were unexpected by everyone, this was largely breaking the social norms regarding ethnicity.
Although it is great to see one character to break these social norms, Munro is not the only character that does. Sherlock Holmes who remind you was a detective that solved many cases that had gone cold. Being that he had solved many cases, Holmes was able to work with people of numerous ethnic backgrounds. His relationship with his clients were completely different relationships in comparison to other ethnic people having a job with a British colleague. Majority of the time, the British colleague would be more of a figure in command. On the other hand, Holmes had to collaborate with all of his clients, which he had no problem doing because he was so engaged and passionate about his work.
There are definitely instances when reading these three books, and it is questionable whether or not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle actually did not follow social norms. It is important to understand what those social norms were and to determine if Doyle used them as guidelines.
It is highly possible for the reader to assume that Doyle might have been a racist. But all of these assumptions can be put to rest when you simply educate yourself and understand the language that was used during the Victorian era. Sure, Doyle was certainly not progressive for his time, but he was always giving his audience work they could relate to.