Most authors define Imperialism in political terms. Few texts however define imperialism beyond politics. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sign of the Four” and Anne McClintock‘s “The Lay of the Land: Genealogies of Imperialism” imperialism is defined in terms of femininity. The female is portrayed as imperial and dominating. She wields extreme power over the male. This implies that the female is as dominating as colonial imperialists.
“The Sign of the Four” by Arthur Conan Doyle is an unforgettable Classic novel. The story remains etched in the mind of the reader for a long, since Doyle creates an amazing new world different from the real world. This makes the story captivating. Even though “The Sign of the Four” is based on the heroics of Sherlock Holmes, events are seen through the eyes of Dr Watson, Holmes trusted confidant.
While Dr Watson is a great friend, he also writes manuscripts of experiences the have together. Initially, Dr Watson presents Holmes as melancholic, dazed and lost in his own world as a result of cocaine addiction, only to be intruded by a beautiful but troubled young lady named Mary (Doyle 11). Mary uninvitedly intrudes Holmes private world but as it later turns out, such intrusion gives the reader the opportunity to peek into Holmes fascinating mind.
It is also through her intrusion that Holmes mysterious powers are unraveled. Mary seeks Holmes’ help to unravel the mystery of the mysterious pearls (Doyle 12, 26). Initially, Holmes seems to be the wrong person to seek help from due to his cocaine addiction, but through out the story, he spots things oblivious to the common eye. This makes him not only a fascinating character. His masterfulness, intelligence and confidence become evident.
“The Sign of the Four” also implicitly explores gender influence, especially with regards to the overpowering influence of feminine beauty. Similarly, in “The Lay of the Land: Genealogies of Imperialism,” Anne McClintock equates such feminine influence to natural power, as she depicts the earth as genuinely feminine.
Additionally, McClintock explicitly depicts the female as an imperialist who defines male anxiety. The imperial female is so dominant in the mind of the male that the male ritualistically feminizes the world. This is depicted through the European male, who erects female symbols as markers of geographical borders and boundaries.
In addition to this, male creations such as sailing ship not only have feminine figures bound to their prows but are also christened female names (McClintock 21-61). “The Lay of the Land: Genealogies of Imperialism,” explores historical perspective of deliberate feminization of nature by the male. McClintock posits that other than symbolizing boundaries and border, the female also portrays the erotic nature of men.
While the “The Sign of the Four” implicitly exhibits the female as an imperialist, “The Lay of the Land: Genealogies of Imperialism,” is explicit in depicting the same. However, “Addiction, Empire, and Narrative in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of the Four” by Christopher Keep and Don Randall depicts a different kind of imperialist: the colonial imperialist.
In this text, Keep and Randall portrays Britain as an empire that imposes itself over other empires especially by exporting addictive substances such as cocaine (208). Cocaine is used pervasively to indicate Britain’s entrepreneurial dominance in Europe. The wickedness of such dominance is also portrayed in “The Sign of the Four” where cocaine, like the female symbol, is used to daze the minds of men.
In these three texts, Imperialism is depicted in gender and political terms. Nevertheless, the effects are the same. Men seem to suffer most. Holmes symbolizes how men are cast under the spell of both the female and the colonial imperialist. Such is the power of imperialism.
Doyle, Arthur. The Sign of the Four. London: Forgotten Books, 2008. Print
Keep, Christopher and Don Randall. “Addiction, Empire, and Narrative in Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Sign of the Four’”. Novel: A Forum on Fiction. Cambridge: Duke University Press, 1999. 207-221. Print
McClintock, Anne. ‘The Lay of the Land: Genealogies of Imperialism.” Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge. 1995. 21-61. Print