Themes

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Deception

Deception is an element common to many works of detective fiction. The Sign of the Four is no exception. The man who started it all is Johnathan Small, who, when attacked by Indian rebels, agreed to help them steal the treasure belonging to the rajah. Small agreed under distress, explaining that he would not have assented had he not been living in the tumultuous times and circumstances of the Indian rebellion. This sets in motion Major John Sholto's subsequent deception of Small himself when Small is in penal colony on the Andaman Islands. Here, Sholto (along with Mary's father) is a guard. The fact that Small was a guard in India when approached by the Arabs concerning the so-called Agra treasure, and, later, Major Sholto is a guard on the penal colony, suggests that the promise of wealth is likely to corrupt the very people in charge of security.

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Sign of Four Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Colonialism

There are many representations of people from India. Though Conan Doyle is relatively progressive writer, he represents non-Westerners in a subordinated way. Mary Morstan's father was an officer in the Indian regiment. In 1857, India attempted to earn independence in an effort which was put down by Britain (who would rule the region until 1947). This begins Mary Morstan's—and by extension, Holmes's—exposure to the subcontinent. Thaddeus Solto has an Indian servant who calls his master (Solto) "Sahib." Conan Doyle describes him as "clad in a yellow turban, white loose-fitting clothes, and a yellow sash and says, "There was something strangely incongruous in this Oriental figure framed in the commonplace door-way of a third-rate suburban dwelling-house." Conan Doyle explicitly avows here that "Hindoos" are unsophisticated and so out of place in Western (British) environments.

Later, when Holmes enlists the help of the "Baker Street Irregulars," the foreign boys are described as "dirty and ragged little street-Arabs." Finally, the fact that Tonga is responsible for the murder of Bartholomew Solto allows a foreigner to take the fall for a crime that would otherwise be on the hands of an Englishman (Small).

Forensics

Forensics play an important role in Conan Doyle's work, specifically handwriting analysis and fingerprinting. For example, Mary Morstan herself matches the...

(The entire section contains 575 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this The Sign of Four study guide. You'll get access to all of the The Sign of Four content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Analysis
  • Quotes
  • Critical Essays
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial
Previous

Summary

Next

Characters