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How Does Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Present the Character of Major Sholto in "the Sign of the Four"?

Autor:   •  November 25, 2018  •  1,279 Words (6 Pages)  •  154 Views

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Major Sholto betrays Jonathan Small by escaping India with the treasure without returning: “The scoundrel had stolen it all, without carrying out one of the conditions on which we had sold him the secret.” The metaphor used in “scoundrel” shows that Major Sholto is untrustworthy as he doesn’t carry out his end of the deal, whereas Jonathan Small “is a man of his word” and “does not flinch from his friend.” Even though Small is of a lower class, others recognize his honourable qualities whereas Sholto is portrayed as an unreliable character. Through the contrast between Jonathan Small and Major Sholto, Doyle conveys the idea that Sholto isn’t morally superior than Jonathan Small despite his class, as his word cannot be trusted.

Doyle also uses Sholto’s character to reflect life in the colonies. In the world of late nineteenth-century Britain, the Empire controlled many regions such as India and Africa through colonisation. Their justification was that the natives needed “civilisation” and conversion to Christianity. Doyle illustrates the life of the colonies during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, as there was a great interest in the life in the colonies, and there was a great sympathy for the British. However, Doyle casts a different light on the life of the colonies, as there was a lot of gambling between officers and corruption. For example, Small says: “These prison-chaps had done little ease than play cards ever since they had been at the Andamans.” This sentence reflects the corruption that occurred in India during the revolution, as the officers would only gamble their money away, and officers like Sholto were led by greed, which is emphasized by the line “this secret of yours is hardly a government matter”. The use of the adverb “hardly” shows that Sholto is willing to go against his duties in order to gain the treasure, reflecting his self-centred and corruptive character.

After stealing the treasure, Sholto also seems to live in fear of wooden-legged men, as he fears that Jonathan Small would come back to murder him in order to regain the treasure. For example, his son Thaddeus Sholto notes: “On one occasion he actually fired his revolver at a wooden-legged man, who proved to be a harmless tradesman canvassing for orders.” His fear of wooden-legged men reflects the fact that he isn’t content after stealing the treasure, as he has done it through immoral means and lives in fear of being exposed by Jonathan Small. Doyle suggests that people of higher class don’t necessarily have higher morals, and suggests that we should choose the moral way in order to be content.

In conclusion, Doyle presents Sholto as a self-centred character that betrays his friends in order to gain treasure that he ultimately has no use for. Even though he has the highest status in the novel, Doyle shows that he is the most heinous in character, which reflects his ideas that class doesn’t always reflect morality.


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