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How Does Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Present the Character of Major Sholto in "the Sign of the Four"?

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In the novel “The Sign of the Four”, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle characterises Major Sholto as a man of the upper middle class that is greedy and self-centered - he allows Mary Morstan to live a less comfortable life by taking away the treasure that is rightfully hers, even though he has no use for it himself.

Firstly, Major Sholto is characterised as a greedy and incongruous character. For example, Sholto says: “That chaplet dipped with pearls beside the quinine-bottle”. The use of imagery suggests Sholto’s abundance in wealth and reflects his lavish lifestyle as a man of power and wealth. Even though he has wealth, he is greedy for more, which is emphasized by the phrase: “The mere feeling of possession has been so dear to me that I could not bear to share it with another.” This sentence reflects Sholto’s addiction and obsession with hoarding treasure. Sholto is willing to betray his friends and do the immoral thing to keep the treasure that he has no use for, as his greed has taken over his conscience and morals.

Major Sholto recognizes that keeping the treasure from Mary is an immoral act, but refuses to return her rightful share of the treasure because of his greed. The phrases “cursed greed” and “besetting sin” shows that Sholto realises his greed and allows it to take over his morals. Sholto believes that his greed is out of his control and doesn’t attempt to repair the damage of stealing the treasure even though he knows it is morally right to return the treasure to Mary. Doyle also uses irony in this sentence, as Sholto goes out of his way to gain the treasure, but has no use for the wealth he gains, reflecting his incongruous character. Sholto also says: “so blind and foolish a thing is avarice.” The personification of his greed shows that he believes that his greed is out of his control and that he is allowing his greed to take over his conscience and morals. Doyle conveys the idea that a higher status doesn’t necessarily mean higher morals - even though people of the upper class receive a better education and learn to distinguish between what is morally right and wrong, they do not necessarily act upon what is morally right.

Major Sholto is also presented as an immoral and selfish character as he only wants to make amends with Mary to save his conscience. On his deathbed, Sholto says: “You, my sons, will give her a fair share of the Agra treasure. But send her nothing - not even the chaplet - until I am gone.” The conditional sentence used shows that Sholto wants to hold on to the treasure for as long as possible, even if he has no use for it. Through the portrayal of Major Sholto, Doyle reflects the Christian beliefs of the Victorian society, as Sholto only returns the treasure to Mary to save his soul from going to Hell. Sholto’s belief in the afterlife drives him to return Mary’s treasure as Sholto believes that this will redeem his soul from the immoral acts that he committed - he betrayed Jonathan Small and his good friend Morstan in order to gain the treasure, and refuses to return Mary’s treasure.

Doyle also characterises Major Sholto as a selfish character as he hides the truth about Captain Morstan’s death from Mary in order to keep the treasure safe. For example, he says: “... no soul upon earth knew where he had gone. There seemed to be no necessity why any soul ever should know.” The use of hyperbole and synecdoche in the phrase “no soul upon earth” reflects Sholto’s determination to hide the truth about Morstan’s death in order to protect the treasure and doesn’t want to be accused of his murder even though he was not directly involved in Morstan’s death. Sholto is portrayed as selfish as he has a moral obligation to tell Mary the truth because he has her rightful share of the treasure, and she deserves to know how her father died. Again, Sholto realises that the moral thing to do is to tell Mary the truth, but doesn’t tell the truth in order to keep the treasure in his possession. Doyle shows that Sholto isn’t morally superior despite his class, as he doesn’t tell Mary the truth or return her share of the treasure.

In the novel as a whole, Sholto’s character contrasts with the character of Jonathan Small. Jonathan Small is of the working class but keeps his word and loyalty to the sign of the four, whereas Major Sholto is of the upper class but betrays Jonathan Small and his friend Captain Morstan to keep the treasure. For example,

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