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Sherlock Holmes: The Sign Of Four Essay

Mordechai Geiger Mrs. Lesserman 3. 3. 2016 Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four Sherlock Holmes is an enjoyable read. The plot is gripping, and the mysteries are solved brilliantly. Never-the-less, as the stories are short, it would seem that there is not quite enough time to develop all of the new characters. However, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adeptly solves this problem in the short story The Sign of Four, by creating symbolisms between the physical attributes of the characters and their more hidden features.

The most prominent parallelisms are: the heart to emotional well being, the mind to the intellect, and the spleen to anxiety or a short temper. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has created a parallel between characters that are overflowing with negative emotions and their heart problems. When Sholto reports the death of Mr. Mortsan, he says that Mortsan “had suffered for years from a weak heart, but concealed it from everyone”(pg. 146). The symbolism of his weak heart becomes apparent once a littler more of his character is revealed. Mortan’s emotional condition parallels directly to his physical health.

He is an angry man that keeps much of his emotions and secrets to himself. An example of his secretive nature is found in the fact that no one in England knows much about him, or later of his death. Then, when Mr. Mortsan confronts one of his partners in the treasure, he dies of a heart attack due to stress and anger from this confrontation. The disease in his heart represents the disease in his emotional well being Symbolism can be found again in Thaddeus Sholto. Sholto, a complex antihero, is highly uneasy about his physical well fair.

When the group rides to his brother’s house, he bombards Watson with questions about different physical ailments. However, before they leave the house on their way to the expedition, Sholto chooses to ask about one concern, his heart. In fact, the only ailment the author specifies clearly, is Sholto’s doubts about his “mitral valve”(pg. 142). Following the idea that the well being of the heart reveals a character’s emotional well being, we can begin to understand why Sholto is worried. If he is concerned for his heart, he must be concerned for his emotiona state as well.

Sholto’s constant over analysis of his heart demonstrates his great consideration for his character. As the story progresses, these predictions prove correct. Furthermore, Sholto’s character also borders on chivalrous. He tries to return Mr. Mortsan’s share of the treasure, even at the risk of upsetting his brother or worse going to prison. However, he is weak. He will not confront his brother until he has more people at his back. He will not face his brother until he knows that Watson and Holmes are on his side. His character is fine, but there is definitely something to be uneasy about.

In addition, when Sholto discovers that his brother has been murdered, he cries, “oh dear! I know I shall go mad”(pg 157). Although upon further examination of causes for (potential) madness, one may find reasons such as stress and other emotional problems, and Sholto is no exception, he is clearly under much mental strain. For this reason also, the author made Sholto anxious about his heart. This anxiety reveals the character’s emotional turmoil. Still, it is important to note that as there is nothing actually wrong with his heart, he is also emotionally stable.

Sholto doubts himself, but the author knows that he is capable of doing what he must. One may argue that these parallels are mere coincidences. Perhaps the author did not have any other intention when creating characters with heart trouble? There are times in the story when the word heart does not seem to follow the interpretation of symbolism. An example of this would be when, upon receiving the news that her father is dead, Ms. Mortsan claims that she “knew in [her] heart that he was dead” (pg 142). Following the idea that the heart is the vessel for emotion, this statement is troubling.

How can Ms. Mortsan know something in her heart? Would it not make more sense for her to know something in her mind? It would seem that the author uses the word heart only as an expression, not attributing any hidden meaning to it. Concurring with the interpretation that the author does have something in mind but alluding to some other concept, one may argue, that the heart does not in fact correspond to emotion, in Doyle’s mind. Au contraire, there are many textual proofs that strengthen literary symbolism found in The Sign of Four.

When Watson tests Holmes’s deductive and inductive reasoning, Watson had “some slight feeling of amusement” (pg 128) in his heart. Then when Ms. Mortsan depicts her father’s return to England she says, “he came with his heart full of hope” (pg 132). Later, Watson reports that, even though there was a lot of stress in the Sholtos’s house, “there was peace in our hearts” (pg. 153). Throughout the story, the author has placed the emotions of amusement, hope, and peace in the heart. It can then be deduced that in the world of Doyle, other emotions are also felt in the heart.

Consequently, if emotions are felt in the heart, it would follow that if the heart is afflicted, there is something wrong on an emotional level as well. Given this evidence, is it a coincidence that Sholto specifies his worry about his heart? Does Mr. Mortsan stochastically die of a heart attack? Highly unlikely. Still remaining is the issue of Ms. Mortsan’s statement. Since the heart reflects on emotional well being, this careless expression (knowledge in the heart), reveals an important aspect of human nature. Emotions play a strong role in our decisions, beliefs, and assumptions.

Ms. Mortsan knows her father is dead, because her heart told her this. This leads into an interesting point. The author has created an extreme contrast between two characters, Holmes and Ms. Mortan. Holmes makes all of his decisions based on intellect for he believes that “the emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning” (pg. 135). He believes that emotions and logic are polar opposites. Conversely, Ms. Mortan apparently knows or suspects that her father is dead, because this is what her heart tells her. In the opening of the story, Doyle equates the mind to the brain.

Holmes finds cocaine to be “clarifying to the mind”(pg. 124). In response to this statement Watson replies, “your brain may… be roused” (pg. 124), but the drug has many side effects. Throughout the rest of the chapter both Sherlock and Watson switch back and forth between using the words mind and brain. In this story the mind clearly corresponds with the intellect. In fact, Holmes enjoys the effects of the drug so much that “it’s secondary action” (damage to physical health) “is a matter of small moment”. It is important to analyze Holmes’s use of drugs.

He uses drugs in place of intellectual stimulants. He cannot deal with boredom, and he has no propose except to challenge his mind. He “cannot live without brain work” (pg. 130), and he “craves mental exaltation” (pg. 124). Why would a person with such incredible mental faculties require intellectual stimulants? There is obviously something highly unhealthy about his way of life and maybe his incredible mind. His problems do not only begin when Holme’s is bored. When at his peak in the middle of a complex mystery, Holme’s landlady believes he has gone insane.

Mrs. Hudson fears for Holmes’s state of mind until Watson reassures her that this is normal behavior for Holmes. Not only does Holmes suppress his emotions, he allows his intellectual desires to completely overtake him and dictate his way of life. Sherlock Holmes is presented as the rationalist. The thinker. The brains. The infallible detective. One can not deny that he has certain talents when it comes to the intellect and logic. Holmes has a vast knowledge of crime and criminal activity, he is capable of making incredible deductions and inductions, yet, he has many issues that stem from his incredible intellect.

It causes him to use drugs as a means of filling the void sometimes created by a lack of intellectual stimulus. In actuality, he is unhealthy and obsesses over the thing he enjoys. The issue of knowledge from the heart can now be resolved. In the author’s mind, a healthy mind requires a healthy heart. The most physically healthy characters in the story, Watson and Ms. Mortsan, are both intelligent people, and yet they have loftier goals which allow them to also listen to their hearts. Tellingly, Ms Mortsan is described as having “spiritual and sympathetic” (pg. 31) eyes.

The author admires a strong mind, but a well rounded soul even more, which is characterized by the positive light in which these literary heroes are cast. A character that does not get much time in the spotlight is John Sholto. In fact, the reader does not actually get to meet him at all. Little is known of Sholto, except for what is told of him by others, specifically his son Theadduess. Again the author employs the use of symbolism in characterizing Sholto in this way by describing him as having “suffered for many years from an enlarged spleen” (pg. 145).

Modern science has revealed that the spleen filters blood, and one if the symptoms of an enlarged spleen is anxiety. Doyle nailed this symbol on the head. Thaddeus remarks that his father was constantly haunted with fear. In fact Sholto once shot a merchant, because he thought the merchant was one of his enemies. In addition it is revealed that Sholto kept a tight guard on the house because of his many fears. John Sholto was a nervous, anxious, and fearful man. His damaged spleen alludes to this, and helps draw the readers attention to this part of his personality.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle eloquently creates a wholesome narrative out of a fictional short story. Through the use of many literary elements, most especially symbolism, he reveals many intriguing secrets. Doyle uses symbolism to give the characters in his story definition, meaning not readily observed at first glance. In this way, he discloses aspects of his characters’ personalities and strengthens what the reader learns about and from them. Through this, it become apparent that the author believes it is highly important for a person to be well rounded. An intellect without a healthy heart, will leave a person with an empty void.

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