Basically the setting of the extract is in London but it has some references of India, too. Explain how the settings of the extract contribute to the theme of the novel.
The novel has many dominant themes which are highlighted by the setting of the extract as follows:
The story of ‘The Sign of Four’ is set against the backdrop of the Victorian Empire. Back then, India was under colonial rule and was a very important colony for the British. Often called as “the crown jewel”, India was associated with wealth and riches. Under colonial rule, British officers were often stationed in India. In this particular extract, Mary’s father, Captain Morstan of the 34th Bombay Infantry, was stationed in India at the penal colony of the Andaman Islands. Her father’s friend, Major Sholto, was also stationed in the same regiment. Thus, the theme of imperialism is evident in the details of the extract. In addition, when Holmes, Watson and Mary Morstan arrive at the house of the anonymous sender of pearls, Watson finds the presence of an ‘Indian’ servant to be strange. This, too, hints at the imperialist attitudes of Englishmen who viewed people from the east (Indians) with suspicion.
Another theme of the extract is that of wealth. The pearls, which Miss Morstan receives, represent the theme of wealth. Wealth is also symbolized in the setting of the Lyceum theatre, where the rich and affluent arrive in all their glory. This setting hints at the bigger theme of the Agra treasure, which dominates the novel and of which the characters have no idea.
- Fear of anything foreign:
The disappearance of Captain Morstan as soon as he returned from India, indicates that the events that transpired in India are somehow responsible for his unfortunate fate. Thus, from the point of view of the main characters, ‘abroad’ (India) is associated with the theme of evil. Similarly, the appearance of an “Oriental figure” (referring to a person from the East; in this case, India) against the setting of a third-rate house in a suburb of south London leaves the characters wary of his presence. This highlights the biased attitudes of the main characters towards “the East” due to which they view it as a place of intrigue and suspicion. In addition, the “oriental figure”, who is the servant of the man who sends the anonymous letters, uses the word “Sahib” to refer to his master. This further alienates him and categorises him as foreign to the readers, making them doubtful of his presence at the house. The writer has thus weaved the theme of “fear of anything foreign”, which was prevalent at the time, into this extract by the way of the male servant.
Captain Morstan was a British officer who was stationed in India and was in charge of the convict-guard at the Andaman Islands. His immediate disappearance on returning to London suggests that his disappearance is connected to the events that occurred in India and contributes to the mystery that Holmes is trying to solve. Because the characters consider India as “foreign”, elements and characters associated with India are viewed as mysterious and intriguing. Another example of this is the paper found in Captain Morstan’s desk which bears the name of four men. Not only do the contents of the paper not make sense to the characters but also the names of the men, being of Indian origin, contribute to the sense of mystery due to their “foreign” nature. Similarly, the presence of an Indian servant at the house in south London represents another link to the “East” (India) and is viewed as strange by the main characters. Finally, the gothic description of London as the character's journey to meet the anonymous sender adds to the theme of mystery by creating a dark and gloomy image of London.
The assumption that Major’s Sholto’s heir is trying to be just to Mary by offering her pearls as compensation highlights the theme of justice. This, too, is related to the events that happened in India, because Major Sholto denies knowing about Captain Morstan’s return to London.