The Sign of the Four

by

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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Tonga’s Blow Darts Symbol Analysis

Tonga’s Blow Darts Symbol Icon

In The Sign of the Four, Tonga’s blow darts—small poisoned spears that kill their target—represent his position in the novella as the most simplistically evil figure, demonstrating his otherness through the darts’ strange foreign quality. Tonga, a native of the Andaman Islands, is portrayed as the most directly and unambiguously evil character, a problematic portrayal with a clearly racist bias against Tonga’s blackness and foreignness. The darts are displayed as a primitive weapon, contrasted with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson’s guns, which adds to the sense of Tonga as being intellectually and physically inferior to the other more Westernized characters. Bartholomew Sholto is the only character to get struck by one of the darts. The rictus grin that the poison leaves on his face is deliberately grotesque, intended to build a sense of fear and foreignness through the unusual manner of the death.

Tonga’s Blow Darts Quotes in The Sign of the Four

The The Sign of the Four quotes below all refer to the symbol of Tonga’s Blow Darts. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Spencer Blackett edition of The Sign of the Four published in 1890.
Chapter 5 Quotes

I stooped to the hole, and recoiled in horror. Moonlight was streaming into the room, and it was bright with a vague and shifty radiance. Looking straight at me, and suspended, as it were, in the air, for all beneath was in shadow, there hung a face,—the very face of our companion Thaddeus. There was the same high, shining head, the same circular bristle of red hair, the same bloodless countenance. The features were set, however, in a horrible smile, a fixed and unnatural grin, which in that still and moonlit room was more jarring to the nerves than any scowl or contortion. So like was the face to that of our little friend that I looked round at him to make sure that he was indeed with us. Then I recalled to mind that he had mentioned to us that his brother and he were twins.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Thaddeus Sholto, Bartholomew Sholto
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

“Now, then, listen to this. 'They are naturally hideous, having large, misshapen heads, small, fierce eyes, and distorted features. Their feet and hands, however, are remarkably small. So intractable and fierce are they that all the efforts of the British official have failed to win them over in any degree. They have always been a terror to shipwrecked crews, braining the survivors with their stone headed clubs, or shooting them with their poisoned arrows. These massacres are invariably concluded by a cannibal feast.' Nice, amiable people, Watson!”

Related Characters: Sherlock Holmes (speaker), Dr. John Watson, Tonga
Related Symbols: Tonga’s Blow Darts
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

At the sound of his strident, angry cries there was movement in the huddled bundle upon the deck. It straightened itself into a little black man—the smallest I have ever seen—with a great, misshapen head and a shock of tangled, dishevelled hair. Holmes had already drawn his revolver, and I whipped out mine at the sight of this savage, distorted creature. He was wrapped in some sort of dark ulster or blanket, which left only his face exposed; but that face was enough to give a man a sleepless night. Never have I seen features so deeply marked with all bestiality and cruelty. His small eyes glowed and burned with a sombre light, and his thick lips were writhed back from his teeth, which grinned and chattered at us with a half animal fury.

Related Characters: Dr. John Watson (speaker), Sherlock Holmes , Tonga
Related Symbols: Tonga’s Blow Darts
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:
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Tonga’s Blow Darts Symbol Timeline in The Sign of the Four

The timeline below shows where the symbol Tonga’s Blow Darts appears in The Sign of the Four. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5 — The Tragedy of Pondicherry Lodge
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
Wealth Theme Icon
The Victorian Gothic Theme Icon
...body, which once again reads “the sign of the four.” He also notices a “ long dark thorn stuck” in the side of Bartholomew’s head. (full context)
Chapter 6 — Sherlock Holmes Gives a Demonstration
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
Rationality vs. Emotion Theme Icon
The Victorian Gothic Theme Icon
...poisoning by “some strychnine-like substance.” Holmes explains that the poison must have been administered by the thorn(full context)
Chapter 7 — The Episode of the Barrel
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
The Victorian Gothic Theme Icon
...the means of entry. Holmes shows Watson a small case containing more of the sharp poisoned thorns that he found on the roof. (full context)
Chapter 8 — The Baker Street Irregulars
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
Rationality vs. Emotion Theme Icon
...the accomplice with the small footprints. Watson exclaims that the small footprints and the blow darts point towards a “savage,” perhaps from South America. (full context)
Chapter 10 — The End of the Islander
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
The Victorian Gothic Theme Icon
...half-animal fury.” When Holmes and Watson notice the man (later revealed as Tonga) pulling a short piece of wood to his lips, they fire their pistols at him, causing him to fall into the... (full context)
Wealth Theme Icon
Rationality vs. Emotion Theme Icon
The Victorian Gothic Theme Icon
...Jonathan Small, and recover the treasure chest from the boat. Holmes and Watson notice a poison dart stuck in the wood on their boat; they are relieved to have escaped death. (full context)
Chapter 12 — The Strange Story of Jonathan Small
Empire and Imperialism Theme Icon
...waist so that Small could climb up. Unbeknownst to Small, Tonga instinctively killed Bartholomew with a blow-dart when he reached the attic room. Tonga was surprised that Small was angry about the... (full context)
Rationality vs. Emotion Theme Icon
Holmes remarks that he was surprised to have nearly been hit by one of Tonga’s darts, given that he had found the casing with all the darts inside. Small reminds him... (full context)