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Written by kyle keenan
“My mind,” he said, “rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants.”
This line, spoken by Holmes after Watson reprimands him for his use of cocaine, reveals part of the complex nature of Holmes. In his proper element, he is the ultimate thinking machine. With no problem to solve however, his energetic genius becomes frustrated, and leads to its subtle destruction.
“The window of my father’s room was found open in the morning, his cupboards and boxes had been rifled, and upon his chest was fixed a torn piece of paper, with the words, ‘The sign of the four’ scrawled across it.”
This ominous line is the first instance in which the “sign of the four” becomes associated with sudden death. This occurs again later in the story, in even more dramatic fashion in the case of Bartholomew Sholto’s murder.
“This is all an insoluble mystery to me,” said I. “It grows darker instead of clearer.”
“On the contrary,” he answered, “it clears every instant.”
This line is a perfect example of quintessential Holmes. At the exact moment when things seem to have taken an unexpected and hopelessly entangled twist, Holmes announces that he has solved the case. This ingenious style of writing can be found in almost every Holmes story, and it serves to pique the reader’s interest: what is Holmes seeing that everyone else is missing?
“His name, I have every reason to believe, is Jonathan Small. He is a poorly educated man, small, active, with his right leg off, and wearing a wooden stump which is worn away on the inner side…He is a middle-aged man, much sunburned, and has been a convict.”
A perfect example of the ever-popular “Holmes description”, the great detective paints a vivid and extremely detailed picture of the murderer, deduced from the most banal objects found at the scene of the crime.
“…It does seem a queer thing to me, that I who have a fair claim to half a million of money, should spend the first half of my life building a breakwater in the Andamans, and am like to spend the other half digging drains at Dartmoor.”
In this line, the convict Small realizes with rueful irony that the treasure that he will spend his life paying for is a wealth he will never enjoy. It is a poignant example of the old but true maxim “crime doesn’t pay.”
“The division seems rather unfair,” I remarked. “You have done all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit; pray what remains for you?”
“For me,” said Sherlock Holmes, “there still remains the cocaine-bottle.”
This rather ominous ending to “Sign of the Four” may leave the reader somewhat unsettled, realizing that now that Holmes has brought the case to a successful conclusion, he will now sink once more into his harmful vices.
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