Foreignness in The Sign of Four

The social and historical context and of Sign of the Four is really important when exploring ideas about foreignness.

Set in the midst of the British Empire, several imperialistic attitudes are explored in novel. This is especially apparent when the character Tonga is discussed. He is often referred to as a ‘savage’ and marked out by his physical appearance.  As a reader, we can be critical of Conan Doyle’s presentation of Tonga, exploring how Conan Doyle unfairly categorises Tonga as a savage, animalistic characters.

Key Interpretations:

  1. Through the character Tonga, Conan Doyle presents foreign characters as uncivilised and lacking British morals.
  2. Conan Doyle’s physical descriptions mark Tonga out as unusual.
  3. Conan Doyle presents elements of foreignness as exciting, exotic and associated with wealth.
  4. Conan Doyle presents foreign characters as closer to animals in their actions and behaviour.

Exploring Foreignness: Key Resources

Start off by reading this past paper question and annotating the extract:

Tonga Past Paper Question

Use this A3 sheet to explore different ideas of foreignness:

A3 – Foreignnes

Read the attached extracts. Look for key quotes which help discuss the four interpretations mentioned on the A3 sheet.

Foreignness Extracts

Key Terms that you must understand:

  • Imperialism
  • Colonialism
  • British Empire
  • Orientalism




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