The Sign of the Four

The Sign of the Four Quotes and Analysis

“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.”

Sherlock Holmes, 89-90

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.

“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.”

Thadeous Sholto, 109

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, even more dramatically, 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.”

Watson/Sherlock Holmes, 109

This line is a perfect example of quintessential Holmes. At the exact moment when things seem to have taken an unexpected and hopelessly entangled turn, 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.”

Sherlock Holmes, 120

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.”

Jonathan Small, 140

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.” (158)

Watson/Sherlock Holmes, 158

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.

"Beside it is written, in very rough and coarse characters, 'The sign of the four- Jonathan Small, Mahomet Singh, Abdullah Khan, Dost Akbar.' No, I confess that I do not see how this bears upon the matter. Yet it is evidently a document of importance. It has been kept carefully in a pocketbook, for the one side is as clean as the other." (98)

Sherlock, 98

Sherlock says this to Mary and Watson as he examines the letter Mary's father left in his desk. Though Mary is unsure of its importance, Sherlock is able to deduce several helpful facts from it, demonstrating his intellectual abilities yet again.

"A wondrous subtle thing is love, for here were we two, who had never seen each other before that day, between whom no word or even look of affection had ever passed, and yet now in an hour of trouble our hands instinctively sought for each other."

Watson, 107

Dr. Watson makes these observations about how he and his future wife met, marveling at how close and connected they were from the first day they met. In times of trouble, their hands instinctively joined, even though they hadn't spoken or gotten to know each other; somehow, they knew that they could depend on one another, and that this was the beginning of something bigger and better for the both of them.

"There's the print of Wooden-leg's hand,' he remarked as i mounted up beside him. 'You see the slight smudge of blood upon the white plaster. What a lucky thing it is that we have had no very heavy rain since yesterday! The scent will lie upon the road in spite of their eight-and-twenty hours' start."

Sherlock, 119

Holmes says this to Watson, thereby showing that luck does play a role in his investigations. For all his deductive skills and intelligence, Holmes, like the rest of humanity, often is under the thumb of lady luck as well.

"Because you are within my reach again," I said, taking her hand. She did not withdraw it. "Because I love you, Mary, as truly as ever a man loved a woman. Because this treasure, these riches, sealed my lips. Now that they are gone I can tell you how I love you. That is why I said, 'Thank God.'" "Then I say 'Thank God,' too," she whispered as I drew her to my side. Whoever had lost a treasure, I knew that night that I had gained one."

John Watson to Mary Morstan, 143

Watson confesses his love to Miss Morstan after he realizes that she is within his reach. She reciprocates his affection and they soon become engaged to be married.