The Sign of the Four Literary Elements

The Sign of the Four Literary Elements


Mystery, Adventure

Setting and Context

London, early 1800's

Narrator and Point of View

This story is narrated by Watson and is told from his point of view, however there is a lengthy "story within a story" which is told from the point of view of Small.

Tone and Mood

Mysterious, suspenseful

Protagonist and Antagonist

Holmes and Watson are the protagonists, with Small and Tonga as the antagonists.

Major Conflict

The major conflict is the murder of Bartholomew Sholto, as well as the mystery surrounding Mary Morstan's past.


The climax of this story comes when Holmes, Watson, and the police are chasing Small and Tonga down the Thames.


The clues which Holmes finds at the scene of the crime foreshadow a peculiarly built individual, who turns out to be Tonga.


"The Sign of Four" itself is an understatement. This rather vague and cryptic message understates the violent death which befalls those to whom the note is affixed.


"The Sign of Four", as the note which small leaves is written, is an allusion to Small and his three Arab compatriots.


The imagery surrounding Tonga, namely his peculiar build, dwarfish appearance and hideous appearance, are necessary to substantiate Holmes' deductions at the scene of the crime.


Tonga is an intentionally paradoxical character. According to Small, there is no one more loyal and faithful than his small friend. However, Tonga is nonetheless a bloodthirsty and brutal character, taking great pride in the murder of Bartholomew.


The repetition of the phrase "Sign of Four" is an intentionally ominous parallel which Small uses to signify the relation to the deaths of the elder Sholto and Bartholomew. Its purpose is to leave a sign that a crude form of justice has been served.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

"The Four" is a helpful metonymy which is used to indicate Small and his three Arab companions. In much the same way, there is an often repeated synecdoche connected with "the iron trunk", which contains the Aggra treasure. Throughout the story, various characters plot, scheme, and kill to obtain "the trunk". In reality, there end goal is obviously the treasure within.


Near the end of the story, Small refers sarcastically to a "pretty justice." He then proceeds to relate the injustices which he feels he has endured in his life. By beginning his rant with this sardonic description of justice, he more fully expresses his bitterness.

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