The Sign of the Four

by

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Sign of the Four: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Watson wakes up late in the afternoon. Holmes appears agitated, frustrated that he has not yet solved the case. Watson decides to go to see Miss Morstan and Mrs. Cecil Forrester to update them; Holmes tells him “women are never to be entirely trusted – not the best of them.”
Holmes’ mental state becomes increasingly agitated with the stalling of the case, as though he is needing his next fix. The degrading comment about women is totally in keeping with the novel’s disparaging attitudes to race and the implication that Western man represents the world’s evolutionary peak.
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Watson heads to Miss Morstan’s house, dropping off Toby the hound on the way. He tells them about the case. Mrs. Forrester calls it “a romance”—“an injured lady, half a million in treasure, a black cannibal, and wooden-legged ruffian.” Watson takes comfort in how unconcerned Miss Morstan seems with her potential fortune; she says her only concern is for Thaddeus’s freedom.
Miss Morstan and Mrs. Forrester generally function as passive receivers of information. The idea of the case “a romance” fits in with a certain idealized version of the East’s exoticism.
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Related Quotes
In the evening, Watson returns home. Holmes’ housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, expresses concern for his health—he has been walking up and down in his room all day. Watson goes to sleep, hearing Holmes’ footsteps throughout the night.
Holmes’ condition is deteriorating with the stalling of the case. The reader might question if this is a rational response to the events that are taking place, or whether Holmes’ obsession with the thrill of problem solving actually represents its own kind of irrationality.
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At breakfast, Watson talks with the haggard-looking Holmes. The latter says that “this infernal problem is consuming me.” He is frustrated to have figured out the particulars of the case but not yet apprehended the subjects. The day goes by without any news. That night, Watson can hear Holmes conducting a chemical experiment.
The chemical experiment appears to serve no purpose to the case other than to occupy Holmes’ mind and reduce his agitation.
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The next morning, Holmes decides to go off down the river in search of the Aurora. He instructs Watson to stay behind to receive any notes and telegrams. At breakfast, Watson reads in the paper that Thaddeus has been set free, exonerated from any involvement in the crime. He also notices an advert asking after the whereabouts of Mordecai Smith, which he figures is Holmes’ doing (it has their Baker street address for correspondence).
Holmes already knew that Thaddeus was not the perpetrator of the crime; Doyle uses the newspaper device to confirm this.
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In the afternoon, the despondent Athelney Jones comes to the apartment, looking for Holmes. Watson offers him a cigar and a whisky and soda while they wait for Holmes to return. Jones laments his inability to solve the case and praises Holmes’ detective skills. He shows Watson a telegram from Holmes that instructed him to come to the Baker street apartment; Holmes claims to be closing in on the culprits.
Jones has run out of luck because Holmes himself has stalled. Jones’ own abilities can’t actually get him anywhere near to solving the case, and so all he can do is wait for Holmes to have a breakthrough. Jones is concerned for his public reputation, whereas Holmes is happy to remain anonymous.
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Just then, a wheezy old man in “seafaring garb” comes to the apartment looking for Holmes. He says that he knows the whereabouts of the Aurora, the criminals, and the Agra treasure. He makes to leave, saying he only wants to speak to Holmes, and as Holmes isn’t there, he can figure it out for himself.
Eagle-eyed readers might notice something suspicious about an old man arriving who seems to all of the answers that are needed to solve the case.
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Jones blocks the door so that the old man cannot leave. Suddenly, they hear the voice of Holmes asking for a cigar—the old man was him in disguise all along. Holmes tells Jones that he will lead him to the suspects as long as he is allowed total control over the case, to which Jones agrees. He instructs Jones to meet him with a police-boat and some men at 7 P.M. that evening, by the Westminster Stairs of the Thames.
The old sailor figure was Holmes all along. Now that he has had a breakthrough in the case, he is in high spirits and having fun—his mental state is intimately linked with the progression of the case. Jones defers to his superior intellect, relieved that he will at least be able to take credit for the case’s resolution at the end of it all.
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Holmes also insists that, when the capture is complete, he would like to question Jonathan Small on his own; he also wants Watson to be entrusted with taking the treasure to Miss Morstan. Jones agrees to these demands, despite them being so “irregular.” Holmes then invites Jones to join him and Watson for dinner.
Jones has to agree to Holmes’ demands because if he doesn’t the case won’t be solved. Holmes’ insistence that Watson deliver the treasure—thus allowing Watson to spend time with his love—is perhaps his only emotionally generous action.
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