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Burton Gui
Dr. Lynda Haas
Writing 39B
July 27, 14
Literature Review
Imperialism in The Sign of Four
The literature usually functions to accurately reflect a society in which writers are
unconsciously influenced by its transformation and ideology. As the most famous detective,
featured in The Sign of Four by Sir. Arthur Canon Doyle, in late 18
, Sherlock Holmes does not
merely play as an imaginary character endowed brilliant intelligence and astute observation,
utilizing the unique method named science of deduction, to lead readers to experience a
puzzle-solving game. Meanwhile, although Doyle tries to avoid importing social critiques and
Victorian moralism to his readers and to bring the detective story closer to pure
narrative(80), which is pointed out by Leroy Panek in Doyle, An Introduction to the
Detective Story, Holmes is still stamped upon the conspicuous age imprint. The detective
novellas of Doyle, especially The Sign of Four, provide precious literature materials to research
British imperialism and divergent attitudes toward its colonialism. At the zenith of sun never
set empire, Britain enjoyed harvests from its worldwide colonies. Relying upon its great
international achievement, British were confident in Britains role as a strong power to lead the
world, and Imperialism was prevalent among the society. Accompanying with ethnocentrism
developed from the superiority, prejudice and discrimination towards other cultures and people
evolved into distinct racism and imperial governance, which was reinforced and incarnated by
Doyle in his classic mystery involving an exotic treasure and native Andaman islander who is
Commented [JT1]: Punctuation

Commented [JT2]: Not a word
Commented [JT3]: confusing
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portrayed as a savage murder armed with poison darts. In 1857, before the publish of The Sign
of Four, Indian Munity, the first rebellion of native against British colonial rule, awakened
British from the fragile obedience of native to cause them rethink their governance of colonies.
Maybe Doyle does not mean to deliberate Imperialism in his novel but a group of scholars, like
Leroy Panek, Christopher Keep, Kirby Farrell and John McBratney, track on traces of imperial
ideology from the famous detective fiction. Based upon examination of imperialism within The
Sign of Four, these scholars note a conflicting feeling -- the fear of insurrections of natives, the
desire of reinforcement of colonial governance and the fasciation of benefits from foreign
territories of Victorian society towards colonialism.
Racist description of the aboriginal people being savage and inherently violent is
illustrative of common conceptualization towards foreign figures, as a fear of insurrectionary
behaviors in British colonies. Kirby Farrell in Heroism, Culture, and Dread In The Sign of Four
mentions that With its rebellious black fiends (p.234) and black devils (p.232) colonial India
comes to express the dark face of the England idealized in the novel(34). Tonga, as the
companion of criminal Jonathan Small, epitomizes the rebellious Indian stepping upon Britain
and coming with hostility, and he is also referred to the fear, among British, towards foreign
incursion. Tonga performs his war dance when Small exhibits him in their travels (156;ch.12),
Mcbratney adds the point in Racial and Criminal Types. Through Watsons perspective, even
though Tonga is falling down to the bottom of Thames, his scary and distorted appearance still
frightens Watson, a former military doctor. I caught one glimpse of his venomous, menacing
amid the white swirl of the waters, Doyle depicts (1641). These are the exact kind of distortion
other races and the fear promoted by imperialism especially after the Munity of India. Also,
Watson describes Tonga as a little black man the smallest I have ever seen with a great,
Commented [JT4]: never use maybe. Say Although Doyle
may not have planned to deliberate
Commented [JT5]: SP.
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misshapen head and a shock of tangled, disheveled hairand chattered at us with half animal
fury(1627). Christopher Keep in Addiction, Empire and Narrative in The Sign of the Four
demonstrates Tongas sunken eyes and animal fury are a complex distillation of
contemporary accounts of the murderous rage exhibited by the Sepoys during the
Munity(214). As one can clearly see this description does not reflect the reality, but
complies with the look on the world where imperialists presented their anxiety and where natives
who had disobeyed their government in the colony were demonized. As an intruder from the
savage world, Tonga has arrived in England and brought with him the sheer excessiveness of
the colonial world(Keep, 214). To exclude evil incursion, Britain has to invite Sherlock Holmes,
the representative imperialism, who has the most sophisticated detective skills in western
The progress of tracking the murder of Bartholomew Sholto by using the Imperial
Gazetteer reflects the influence from criminal anthropology and racial criminal types framed to
reinforce governance of India, as an imperial desire of consolidating British imperialism.
Ethnographic information before the Munity was used to expand more territories and maximize
revenues of British interests in India. However, after the Indian Rebellion, British rethought of
collecting data to forestall another rebellion (McBratney, 151). Keep addresses, Canon
Doyle employs nineteenth-century typologies of gender, class, and race, and thus creates a
detective designed to enforce the fixity and naturalness of established social order
(686-87)(216). Then, McBratney demonstrates, The discourses of census powerfully molded
perspectives onBritish fiction writers, like Doyle, who wrote about India. We still see this
shaping power especially in that writers susceptibility to the language of racial typethe
foreclosure of political consciousness and activity in Indian(153). When Sherlock Holmes
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begins to track down the mysterious companion of Small, the description of the Andaman
Islanders that Holmes identifies as the first volume of a gazetteer which is now being published
lights a bright clue leading towards Tonga (1303). With the help of the gazetteer, Holmes finds
the murder; British enforced its governance in India and excluded any reasons of causing
aggressiveness of natives except to racial instincts. Likewise, in the case of Tonga, the
fixation on type obviates all consideration of ramifications of colonialism. Doyles narrative
ascribes the Islanders violence not to any legitimate resentment of British invasions of the
archipelago but to his races innate proclivity for monstrous aggression, McBratney adds to the
discussion (156). Thus, as Tonga and his poison darts dramatize ungovernable anger which
must be extinguished, so Holmes enacts an equally dissociated conscience It is not society or
a privileged class punishing a rebellious upstart, but rather Truth annihilating savage
Evil(Farrell, 35). Imperialism rationalized its colonial influences upon natives, which stamped
rebellions as a type criminal and the brutal nature of the colonized. In the novel, Tonga who
represents for the rebel is distorted by Doyle as a cannibal feast (1304) and eventually ends up
his life Somewhere in the dark ooze at the bottom of the Thames(Doyle, 1645).
Regardless of the fear of exoticism, these scholars notices the Sun Never Set empire
had a deep addiction towards its foreign colonies, which also can be addressed from the novel.
Though the mid- to late-nineteenth-century view of the colonies had bred into a conflicting
imperial conception, it was still widely held that the colonies were vital to the success of the
British Imperial government (Panek 80). Miss Morstans accessories from India do not escape
Watsons attention especially the "a small turban of the small dull [grey] hue, relieved only by
the suspicion of a white feather in the side" (Doyle, 313). He quickly turns and focuses all his
attention on the accessories that finally serve as his basis of attraction to her. He is also very
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descriptive of Thaddeus Sholtos not so humble abode. He associates the foreign objects found in
the house with decadence. It is a western characteristic tendency to view the other cultures as not
civilized enough to their level. The British officials in the colonies accrued lots of wealth from
their colonial visits as seen from the character Abdullah Khan. He tells Jonathan Small, "We
only ask you to do that which your countrymen come to this land for. We ask you to be rich"
(Doyle, 1897). The general feeling amongst the British visiting the colonies was that the treasure
they had was theirs for the taking. As Khan is seen telling Jonathan Small, the colonies are
simply sources of wealth for the British Imperialists. Though they do not value the people or
even their culture, they still consider the economic opportunities presented by the colonies as
massive (Keep 207). They exploit them by taking whatever gems they find and even acquire
large tracts of land for themselves despite the remarkable loathing of the local cultures. Sholtos
house is described by Watson as "The carpet was of amber and black, so soft and so thick that
the foot sank pleasantly into it, as into a bed of moss" (Doyle, 502). He further goes on to
depict this tendency as he talks about "a lamp in the fashion of a silver dove," noting that it,
"[hangs] from an almost invisible golden wire in the centre of the room. As it burned it filled the
air with a subtle and aromatic odour" (502). While they loot the riches from their colonies, the
so-called savages wallow in poverty despite being the owners of these spoils (Farrell 34). In
addition, Keep addresses, Cocaine is, in this sense, the archetypal colonial product: it traces an
arc from raw substance originating on the ill-defined[India]periphery of empire(210). He
further discusses that Holmes symbolizes Imperialism, which he needs cocaine to stimulate his
mind, as Britain needed Narcotics to earn money. Thus, India is like drug, which imperialists
could not resist its attractive interests, as well as poison, which they were afraid of insurrections
in colonizes (210-11).
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The Sign of Four is an outstanding literature, which witnesses social transformation and
imperialism in the Victorian era. Sherlock Holmes acts as a social guard fighting against barbaric
and savage natives, representing for rebellions from British colonies and threatening stability of
the heart of the empire. However, unwittingly, he also cannot resist addiction of exotic products,
as symbolizing imperialists relied upon irresistible interests in colonies. The novel completely
records the conflicting feeling among British towards colonialism. Although Sherlock Holmes
used to be stamped upon Imperialism, he still represents a spirit based on sophisticated analysis
and solid evidence to solve problems. Taking off label of Imperialism in nowadays, he
transcends into a classic hero without super power, just with his intelligence owned by even
ordinary people.

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Works cited
Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Sign of the Four. Seattle: Amazon Digital Services, 2013. Kindle
eBook. Online.
Farrell, Kirby. "Heroism, Culture and Dread in The Sign of the Four." Studies in the Novel 16.1
(1984): 32-51. Print.
Keep, Christopher, and Don Randall. "Addiction, Empire, and Narrative in Arthur Conan Doyle's
"The Sign of the Four"." NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 32.2 (1999): 207-221. Print.
Mcbratney, John. "Racial And Criminal Types: Indian Ethnography And Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle's The Sign Of Four." Victorian Literature and Culture 33.01 (2005): 149-167.
Panek, LeRoy. An introduction to the detective story. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green
State University Popular Press, 1987. Print.

Controlling Idea
The controlling idea was that it was not known if Conan Doyle may have incorporated British
imperialism but it was proved by other writers that British imperialism was present.
Basic Requirements
This essay met all basic requirements and exceeded the number of sources needed.
Although this paper was longer than what was actually said needed to be, he accomplished the
page minimum.

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In the conclusion, the writer stated that Sherlock was an example of a social guard for
British imperialism but then goes on and says that Sherlock is transcending into a social hero.

Three top priorities for revision
1.Your introduction is way too long. It should never be longer than your body paragraphs. Try to break a
down a little bit because readers can get lost within the first paragraph or declare it as boring.
2.For your citations, please include in the author and page number.
3. For your controlling ideas, provide a map or structure for how you want your ideas to flow. Since
your introduction is long and lengthy, it gets a bit confusing with your essay. Try relating your
paragraphs back to your topic sentence. Your ideas are there, but your structure is off.