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Guide to Mastering "The Sign of Four" by Arthur Conan Doyle for GCSE Students - Part 2 🕵️‍♂️🔍



Understanding how Doyle crafts his characters—especially Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson, and Mary Morstan—is crucial.


Sherlock Holmes: A wonderful nutter

Enter Sherlock Holmes, the detective extraordinaire, whose cocaine habit is less about setting health trends and more about showcasing his sheer boredom with the mundanities of life. Doyle gives us a man who's essentially a brain on legs, with the emotional range of a teaspoon – at first glance, anyway. Through his adventures, though, we see glimpses of a man who might just understand the human heart (even if he pretends otherwise).


Holmes's relationship with Watson (and to a lesser extent, Mary Morstan) slowly chips away at his marble exterior. It's like watching a cat thaw out to human affection. By the end, Holmes isn't just a deduction machine; he's a deduction machine with a heart, maybe. Doyle's subtle work here is akin to adding a pinch of salt to sweet cookies – unexpectedly enhancing the flavour.


Why is it significant? 

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Dr. John Watson: More Than Just a Moustache… but what a moustache…

Dr. John Watson, our dear narrator, starts off as Holmes's loyal tagalong, seemingly there to make Holmes look sublime. But oh, dear reader, he's so much more. Watson is the emotional backbone of the duo. When Mary Morstan enters the scene, Watson transforms from sidekick to leading man in his own love story, proving there's room for romance amid the murder and mystery. It’s a bit cringey, though. Watson is hardly a modern, progressive boyfriend. 


Watson's evolution from Holmes's shadow to Mary's suitor is Doyle's way of reminding us that even in a story about solving puzzles, the heart wants what it wants. And in Watson's case, it wants a life beyond being Holmes's biographer and cheerleader, and picking up his morphine syringes all day.


Why is it significant? 

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Mary Morstan: Not Your Average Damsel

Mary Morstan steps into the testosterone-fueled world of Holmes and Watson, not with a scream, but with a mystery that needs solving. She's not here to play the damsel in distress; she's here to get answers. Her introduction brings a new dynamic to the Holmes-Watson bromance, adding a dash of love and a pinch of personal stakes to the story.


Mary's presence is like throwing a pebble into a pond, creating ripples that change everything for Watson (and to a lesser extent, Holmes). Through Mary, Doyle explores themes of justice, love, and the effects of the past on the present, all while maintaining a stiff upper lip, because, well, this is Victorian England, after all.


Why is it significant? 

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VOCABULARY PRACTICE 8-2

WORD:

DEFINITION (figure it out from the text + dictionary): 

Conventionality (N)


Endowed (A)


Connoisseur (N)


Culpable (A)


Palpable (A)


Whimsical (A)


Confederate (N)


Inimitable (A)


Infallibility (N)


Preconcerted (A)



Questions - The Sign of FourBy Arthur Conan DoyleCHAPTERS - i-vi


1.  Is Holmes a total loner?

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2.  Holmes calls the case “simplicity itself”...which makes us all feel a bit stupid. Why does Doyle do this? 

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3.  How does Holmes view the working classes based on his interactions? Give examples to support your ideas.

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4. Holmes reads a book on the Andama Islands, which tells him the inhabitants are “fierce, morose, and intractable people”, before describing their appearance as “naturally hideous, having large, misshapen heads, small fierce eyes and distorted features.” Whistle Why does Doyle use such a cheap trick to make Victorian readers fear the unknown?

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5. And… “women are never to be entirely trusted – not the best of them.” Should we dislike Holmes or Doyle here? Is this a view of the author or character development?

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6. How are the best and worst of Holmes linked to the progress of his cases?________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


7. Give chapter 10 a grade from A+ to E. Explain your decision:

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Racism in old books

This book, like many others written in the past, contains racist elements that are shocking for modern readers. Watson remarks on Tonga: “...never have I seen features so deeply marked with all bestiality and cruelty […] his thick lips were writhed back from his teeth, which grinned and chattered at us with half-animal fury.” That’s pretty abhorrent. So, it poses a hugely important question.Should books like the Sign of Four be modified for a modern audience or left in their original published version? Write an essay discussing the question:

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