The Sign of the Four
First published in 1890, The Sign of Four is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's second book starring legendary detective Sherlock Holmes. The story is complex, involving a secret between four ex-cons from India and a hidden treasure. More complex than the first Holmes novel, The Sign of Four also introduces the detective's drug habit and leaves breadcrumbs for the reader that lead toward the final resolution. (From feedbooks.com)
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Chapter 1 - The Science of Deduction
Sherlock Holmes is literature's most famous detective, having been featured in over fifty short stories, four novels, and countless television and movie adaptations. While most people are familiar with his trench coat and deerstalker hat, you may be surprised to learn that Holmes is also a recreational drug user, using cocaine for mental stimulation. When this book was written, cocaine was a legal drug. (This annotation contains an image)
Watson _______ of Holmes' drug use.
Dr. John Watson is the narrator of almost all of the Sherlock Holmes stories; consequently, each story is told from his first person point-of-view. The video below defines point of view. Think about how the reader's understanding of the story is shaped by Watson's knowledge and understanding of the events of the plot. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following is implied through Holmes' discussion of the ashes?
Which of the following best describes Watson's attitude in this paragraph?
Characterization refers to the way an author brings a character to life by revealing aspects of his or her personality. The video below explains some common methods of characterization employed by authors. What have we learned about Holmes so far from his speech, actions, and effect on others? (This annotation contains a video)
Using evidence from this chapter, characterize Sherlock Holmes.
Chapter 2 - The Statement of the Case
Literary critic C. Hugh Holman developed a list of six characteristics of a good detective novel. The first characteristic is that the detective must be presented with a crime worthy of being investigated. As you read Miss Morstan's story, evaluate whether you feel "The Sign of the Four" meets this criteria.
An inference is a conclusion which is arrived at through reasoning, even though it is not directly stated. Holmes constantly makes inferences from the clues he receives; you should too if you want to solve the mystery before he does. What inferences can you draw from Miss Morstan's story?
Which of the following is the most likely reason that Holmes thinks Miss Morstan is "a model client"?
Which of the following is the reason Holmes is unemotional?
The video below defines irony, a device found in this highlighted statement. What point is Holmes making with this ironic statement? (This annotation contains a video)
Chapter 3 - In Quest of a Solution
Watson refers to Miss Morstan as "more than woman." This statement implies that Watson thinks Miss Morstan is
The video below defines mood. How would you describe the mood created through the details in this paragraph? (This annotation contains a video)
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
Choose two specific details from this description of the setting and explain how they create a mysterious and foreboding mood.
Chapter 4 - The Story of the Bald-Headed Man
Compared to Miss Morstan's attitude, Thaddeus Sholto's attitude is more
Norwood is a region in southeast London. It is marked with the red dot on the map below. (This annotation contains an image)
A second characteristic of a good detective novel identified by C. Hugh Holman is that all of the suspects of the crime must be introduced to the reader so that he or she can "play along." Make note of this statement and store it away for later.
The description of the letter which Major Sholto receives supports which of the following inferences?
Holmes is _______ by the mystery presented to him by Thaddeus Sholto.
Thaddeus Sholto quotes French writer Stendhal in this line, which translates to "Bad taste leads to crime." (This annotation contains an image)
Use the "define" tool to look up the word valetudinarian. This sentence uses the second definition of the word. Which of the following words is closest in meaning to valetudinarian?
These lines contain an example of situational irony- a contrast between what you would expect and what actually occurs. Why is Watson upset to find out that Miss Morstan is about to become an incredibly wealthy heiress?
Part One Quiz
Chapter 5 - The Tragedy of Pondicherry Lodge
Sherlock Holmes is a man of many talents: in addition to solving crimes, he also plays the violin and is a talented boxer. The scene below comes from a 2010 film adaptation of Sherlock Holmes; it showcases Holmes' skill in the ring. Watch the clip and use it to answer the next question. (This annotation contains a video)
Describe how Holmes' reasoning skills are of use to him in the boxing scene.
Which of the following phrases does not contribute to the foreboding mood in this paragraph?
A mole is a small, rodent-like animal known for its ability to dig tunnels and holes. Why does Bartholomew's yard look as though it has been attacked by moles? (This annotation contains an image)
Choose two details from this chapter and explain how they create a suspenseful mood.
In what ways are Watson and Holmes most different from one another?
Chapter 6 - Sherlock Holmes Gives a Demonstration
The third characteristic of a good detective novel outlined by C. Hugh Holman is that all of the clues must be available to the reader (again, so he or she can "play along"). As Holmes goes through his theories, see how many clues you picked up on and interpreted correctly.
Although he is often credited for his skill in deductive reasoning, Holmes actually more frequently uses inductive reasoning: using a specific observation to draw a probable (but not necessarily 100% accurate) conclusion. What examples of inductive reasoning are contained in this chapter?
Based on this line, which of the following would Holmes most likely agree with?
Tetanus is an infection which results in muscle spasms- tight and painful contractions of muscles.
Jones is _______ Holmes' reasoning skills.
Holmes has the following to say about Mr. Jones: "There are no fools so troublesome as those who have some wit." In literature, foils are characters who possess contrasting qualities. Placing the characters next to one another serves to highlight their differences.
In what way are Holmes and Jones foils?
This time, Holmes quotes German writer Goethe: "We are used to seeing that man despises what he does not comprehend." (This annotation contains an image)
Chapter 7 - The Episode of the Barrel
Which of the following conclusions cannot be inferred from the highlighted line?
Provide two ways that the reader's understanding of the mystery would be different if Holmes, and not Watson, were the narrator of the story.
A bull's eye is a type of lantern, depicted below. The name comes from the shape of the lens it uses to cast light. (This annotation contains an image)
Dr. Watson is a veteran of the British Army. While serving, he received a wound when he was shot in the leg. His trademark cane is the result of this wound. (This annotation contains an image)
The descriptive word from this paragraph which LEAST matches the intended mood of the passage is
Which of the following statements best describes Holmes' attitude regarding the criminal leaving behind his scent?
The Jefferson Hope murder case alluded to in this line is the case from the very first Sherlock Holmes novel, "A Study in Scarlet." (This annotation contains an image)
Holmes describes the sky using a(n)
Is this statement in keeping with Holmes' characterization? Why or why not?
Why do Holmes and Watson laugh?
Chapter 8 - The Baker Street Irregulars
Novels written in the Victorian era were often published in installments rather than all at once. To keep readers interested from week to week, authors would use little cliffhangers before picking up the action where it left off the week before- much like a TV show. How do chapters 7 and 8 illustrate this?
The image below displays a model of a Victorian steam launch- a steam-engine powered boat which was popular in the 1800s. (This annotation contains an image)
Describe how Holmes employed this philosophy while talking to Mrs. Smith.
Known as the Baker Street Irregulars, these "detectives" are actually a small group of homeless children whom Holmes pays to dig up clues. They first appeared in "A Study in Scarlet." (This annotation contains an image)
Author Arthur Conan Doyle intends the portrayal of Jones in this article to be
The clip below comes from a film version of "The Sign of the Four." Watch the scene with the Baker Street Irregulars (it ends at 4:33) and use the scene to answer the next question. (This annotation contains a video)
Using details from the text and the clip, why is "the Baker Street Irregulars" an appropriate name for this group?
Part Two Quiz
Chapter 9 - A Break in the Chain
The link below is to a poem by Walt Whitman called "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer." Read the poem and use it to answer the next question. (This annotation contains a link)
How would Holmes respond to "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer"? Use evidence to support your thoughts.
The image below is meant to illustrate Holmes in this scene. Study the image and use it to answer the next question. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following details from the image most clearly portrays Holmes' mood in this scene?
Recall Holmes' statement from earlier in the book: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." When an idea is repeated multiple times throughout a novel, it takes on thematic meaning. What theme is Conan Doyle suggesting?
In this paragraph, Jones expresses _______ for Holmes.
Watson describes the mariner in great detail. Do you notice anything odd about him?
Which of the following is suggested about Holmes through this incident?
Chapter 10 - The End of the Islander
A fourth characteristics which C. Hugh Holman feels a good detective novel must have is an interesting detective, who is intelligent but also possesses some unique personality traits or quirks which make him interesting to read about. Does Holmes meet this criteria in your opinion?
Which of the following is the primary purpose of Holmes' monologue?
C. Hugh Holman's fifth characteristic of a good detective novel is that the antagonist must be a rival worthy of the detective. What evidence suggests that Jonathan Small meets this requirement?
The clip below shows the chase scene as depicted in a 1987 film adaptation. Watch the scene and use it to answer the next question. (This annotation contains a video)
Which version of the scene- the print or film version- is more suspenseful? Why?
As the novel reaches its climax, Arthur Conan Doyle uses descriptions to create a thriller. Keep an eye out for which details you feel do this most effectively.
Which of the following details does not contribute to the thrilling mood of the chase scene?
Chapter 11 - The Great Agra Treasure
Do you find it odd that Holmes and Small speak to each other like this? From what we know about Holmes' character, why do you think he shows so much respect for someone who has committed so many exploits? (This annotation contains an image)
Why is Jones' statement ironic?
Which of the following adjectives best describes Miss Morstan's interest in the treasure?
Now known as Varanasi, Benares is city in southeast India which is particularly known for its metalwork. (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following details from this scene can be considered ironic?
Chapter 12 - The Strange Story of Jonathan Small
The last of C. Hugh Holman's characteristics of a good detective novel is that the solution must be logical, possible, and reasonable when it finally comes to light. Keep this characteristic in mind as Small reveals the details of his crimes.
Which of the following best describes the narrative purpose of Holmes' interview with Small?
Britain and India have a long and violent history. For many years, India was a British colony. In the next pages, Small refers to the Indian Rebellion of 1857 caused one of the first bloody uprisings against British colonialism. (This annotation contains an image)
"Sepoy" is a term which refers to an Indian soldier. Many sepoys were trained and employed by the British Army, making them an even more dangerous force to be reckoned with when the Rebellion of 1857 occurred. (This annotation contains an image)
Small depicts India as
Recall that the Sign of the Four looks like the image below. From the conversation three of the men are having here, do you have any theories about why they chose this symbol? (This annotation contains an image)
Explain how the following statement is true: Jonathan Small's actions in India were primarily motivated by a desire to protect his personal safety- not by greed.
Which of the following does not have an effect on Small's decision to participate in the murder of the merchant?
A stock character is a character who is easily recognized by the audience and requires no development from the writer. Especially in mysteries, authors often make the antagonist a traditional villain, without explaining who he is or what his motivation is. Is Small a stock character? Why?
How do Watson, Holmes, and Jones feel about Small?
What would you have done if you were in Small's situation?
This sentence is an example of
Based on what we already know about Major Sholto, make a prediction about how he becomes wrapped up in Small's story.
The video below defines theme. Watch the video and use it to answer the next question. (This annotation contains a video)
Describe how the theme "greed corrupts and destroys lives" is relevant to Small's story.
The story is closing. Did it meet all of the characteristics of a good detective story? Or did you notice weaknesses in the narrative?
Which of the following is the most likely reason Arthur Conan Doyle includes this story?
In the mid-1800s, fairs featuring human displays- disparagingly called "freaks of nature"- were very popular.
Why is Sherlock so unenthusiastic about Watson's engagement?
Goethe's quote translates to mean "Nature, alas, made only one being out of you although there was material for a good man and a rogue."
Part Three Quiz