Jonathan Small

Jonathan Small

Although Jonathan Small only actually appears towards the end of the book, he is referred to by different characters throughout. The reader learns about him from the things other characters say about him and the ways they respond to him.

Holmes identifies him as the wooden-legged man and we learn that Major Sholto died from the shock of seeing Small's face at the window. Mrs Smith, the boat keeper's wife describes him as 'ugly' and 'outlandish'.

When Small is arrested and confesses in full to his crimes, he is revealed as a cunning and manipulative character. He also shows a frightening side when he is angry. His involvement with the Sign of the Four pact and the way he chases the treasure are key to the plot.

How is Jonathan Small like this?EvidenceAnalysis
FrighteningWhen Mrs Smith describes the one-legged man to Holmes and Watson, she paints an unpleasant picture."Besides, I don't like that wooden-legged man, wi' his ugly face and outlandish talk."The reader is shown Mrs Smith's distrust and fear of Jonathan Small. His appearance is ugly and frightening, suggesting that his character is similarly unpleasant.
CalculatingSmall explains how he took advantage of the fact that Major Sholto was in debt."The major was raving about his losses."Small says he used the Major's financial situation to bargain for his own freedom. He promised the Major and Captain Morstan a share of the treasure if they would arrange a boat to rescue him and his comrades.
RuthlessHe has no concern for other people and uses them to meet his own ends. In his bid to escape he takes advantage of Tonga's devotion."When I found that he was devoted to me and would do anything to serve me, I saw my chance of escape."Small does not consider Tonga's needs or desires. Instead he ruthlessly abuses the islander's devotion to make his own 'escape'.

Social and historical context

Britain established its rule over India during the 18th Century. In 1857 however, Indian soldiers in Bengal rebelled and shot their British officers. As a result of their actions a wider rebellion began across India. Jonathan Small describes how he was caught up in this rebellion and took refuge in Agra. This is where he meets the Sikhs who enlist his help to murder the merchant Achmet and steal the chest of treasure.

Analysing the evidence

Small had dropped his mask of stoicism, and all this came out in a wild whirl of words, while his eyes blazed, and the handcuffs clanked together with the impassioned movement of his hands. I could understand, as I saw the fury and the passion of the man, that it was no groundless or unnatural terror which had possessed Major Sholto when he first learned that the injured convict was upon his track.

What do we learn about Jonathan Small from this extract?

How to analyse the quote:

  • 'his mask of stoicism' - the 'mask' implies that Small is well-practised in guarding his feelings and maintaining the outward appearance of calm and composure.
  • 'wild whirl of words' - the alliteration emphasises the excitement of Small in this section. His words seem to spin out of him.
  • 'I saw the fury and the passion of the man' - Watson explains that he can now understand why other people have been struck with terror at the sight of Jonathan Small. His 'fury' and 'passion' are disturbing and fierce.