Holmes and his Addiction
In their article, “Addiction, Empire, and Narrative in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four,” Christopher Keep and Don Randall relate the second Sherlock Holmes novel to a variety of topics relevant during the Victorian era. Among these, the authors discuss the image of the British Empire, how their drug exportation affects this image, what Sherlock Holmes represents with regard to this, and the overall impact of addictive substances on the British colonial holdings. Keep and Randall accomplish this mighty task with for major punctures, humorously referred to as punctures.
The first puncture, as the authors state immediately, serves to “connect addiction to the policing of otherness that occurs through the science of deduction” (Keep and Randall 209). In layman’s terms, Keep and Randall aim to reveal what Holmes’ drug use says about his character. Keep and Randall use quotes from the book to describe Holmes’ cocaine use as necessary to keep his mind exalted during the periods of intense boredom when there is not a case to solve. More importantly, the paragraph begins references to influences of the Orient on London. This specifically occurs when the authors discuss Watson’s interchangeable understanding of opium and cocaine. Although vastly different in origin and composition, the doctor speaks of them as if they both hail from Britain’s eastern holdings (Keep and Randall 308-211).
The second puncture addresses the image of the British Empire. Keep and Randall claim that the references to the India mutiny bring up the intense challenge to the colonial authority of the British Empire accompanied by the brief uprising. The references, according to the authors, furthermore dramatize the orientalness of parts of London, exacerbated by Holmes and Watson’s trip to an undesirable oriental neighborhood of the great city (Keep and Randall 211-214).
The third puncture relates the character Tonga and his grotesque body to the racial makeup of London. Essentially, each of the characters associated with the orient have some sort of grotesque facial or body feature. The author describes the character as having a mix of features present in both animals and cocaine addicts, thus continuing the connection between cocaine and the Middle East (Keep and Randall 214-216). Lastly, the fourth puncture discusses the ending of The Sign of Four. The authors make claims that because the savage, Tonga, and the Agra treasure continue to lie at the bottom of the River Thames they will forever remain a part of the city. More metaphorically, the Middle Eastern influences from the empires colonial holdings will forever remain. The authors go even further in their comparison of the river Thames as a gateway between the great city of London and the empire (Keep and Randall 216-219).
To read this article for yourself visit the following link: “Addiction, Empire, and Narrative…”.
Christopher Keep and Don Randall’s article makes several great points with regards to the underlying meaning of The Sign of Four. Imperialism and its effects on society was a huge topic of discussion during the Victorian Era. With British holdings approaching one fourth of the world, the issue was even more important to the citizens of the empire. The series of punctures described by Randall and Keep each bring out excellent points. In the first, the paragraph describing Holmes drug addiction, the authors do a fair job creating their point. One can easily imagine Sherlock Holmes’ mind being in such need of excitement that the great detective would stoop to using cocaine as an alternative. The point regarding Watson and his description of cocaine and heroin as being similar is even more brilliant. This paragraph resonates because it is entirely true. During the Victorian Era, drugs were viewed as a poison from the East, no matter if the particular drug actually originated in Canada. The same can be seen in modern society in the treatment of those from the Middle East, especially since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Overall, the points made are excellent and contribute to the overall idea of the article.
During the third puncture, the authors bring up another great point involving Tonga, the little savage from the story. This one remains memorable due to its use of character symbolism, my favorite tool for literary analysis. Their point about the grotesque facial features is an excellent one. Described with “a great misshapen head” and “glow[ing]…eyes” (qtd from Keep and Randall 214), Tonga can easily creep out any reader. This is why the symbolism works. The mix of features between and animals and cocaine addicts is perfectly reasonable. The similarities further the connection between cocaine addicts and the empire’s oriental holdings.
My favorite, and by far the best argument presented is the last puncture. Keep and Randall remark upon the symbolism of the river Thames and more importantly, what lies at the bottom. During the final moments of the novel, Tonga joins the Agra treasure at the bottom of the Thames. This, the authors claim, represents the everlasting presence of the Orient in Britain (Keep and Randall 216). This symbolism works perfectly because the mud of the river claims both Tonga and the treasure forever. These things will never move from their final resting places, therefore they represent the continuous presence of the East. The author’s extrapolation of this symbolism works as well. The River Thames serves as the main entryway to London. Therefore, a pertinent symbol of the Empire’s oriental holdings lying at the bottom of this entryway perfectly represents an entryway into the Middle East.
Apart from the decent points created in the series of punctures, this article has a severe flow problem. To the reader, most of the points get bogged down in a mass of quotes and summaries of other works. One also gets the distinct feeling of a lack of overall thesis. The excellent points brought up during the article do not seemed to ever be connected in a clear manner. Yet, the nice quality of the individual points almost negates this shortcoming in Keep and Randall’s article.
Although this article makes several good points about the individual symbolic pieces in The Sign of Four, it has several shortcomings with regard to the thesis. The individual punctures, at times, do little to back up the thesis of the article. Keep and Randall’s article is certainly worth reading for the individual points which allow a greater understanding of symbolism in The Sign of Four.
Article by N. Herringer