signalman Essay

Signalman Essay

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How does Dickens creates suspense in “The Signalman”

In the following essay I will discuss how Dickens creates suspense in “The Signalman” ;by exploring the settings and the characters. The novel was written by Charles Dickens in the 19th century. It is set in a deep cutting adjacent to a tunnel with a railway running through.
        Suspense is created through supernatural, horror and ambiguity. A good suspense story should have all of these. I will explore these qualities which make up a good suspense story.
        The story opens with the quote “Halloa! Below there” ;This short, but effective line becomes very decisive as the story unfolds. We don´t know who´s speaking and so creates tension already. The man he is shouting to below looks round to face the tunnel “Looked down the line”. Any normal person would look upwards in response to this. Again Dickens is creating the unexplainable which builds up the tension and suspense.
        At this time we don´t know who either of the men is. We know it is a ghost story so which one if any is the ghost. He is making you ask yourself questions which create suspense. You are already hooked and trying to figure out who is the ghost. He then goes on to describe the man below “There was something remarkable in his manner of doing so”. This is evidence for the argument that he is possibly the ghost because of his weird actions. The actions create mystery which is effective to create the overall suspense. Also you still haven´t had any kind of a physical description of the signalman so at this time you don´t even know if he´s human or not and you can´t just make an assumption, you have to read on.
        The story is set in the nineteenth century, a time when supernatural powers were still believable so someone reading this at the time would feel more of the pressure. The scene is set within a deep cutting at twilight and because of the darkness the two men don´t get to see each other properly until they are face to face which is too late if one man kills the other. “I was near enough to have touched him”. It makes you have the “Don´t go down there” ;feeling so tension builds up more and more the closer they get to one another. Just before he goes down the cutting an unknown vibration shakes the ground “Vague vibration in the earth and air” ;He also uses a lot of effective adjectives like “Violent pulsation” ;this captures the senses and adds to the tension. This could be the final climax to the building pressure, but it ends up as being a train this ;creates a lot of tension which is then lost after you are enlighten
The cutting would be pretty dark ;this darkness creates the suspended mood. It is also described as being “Extremely deep and unusually precipitous” ;and “Solitary and dismal”. It seems like the place is very isolated and cut off from the real world, the perfect place for supernatural happenings “Great dungeon”. The tunnel also creates suspension, why did he look down there in this first place and what could be down there It is described as “Barbarous, depressing and forbidding”. The smells and surroundings make him a little bit reluctant to descend “Air of reluctance”.
The story is only spread over a couple of days, but that is all it takes for him to get involved, also the story only ever takes place within the cutting. Is this so none of the tension is lost? “But I expressly intend to make you another visit”. The two men meet both times at the bottom of the cutting at night “I will come at eleven”. This keeps the tension due to the darkness, It would probably be lost if they were to meet on a sunny midday. Also the darkness impairs the narrators vision so he can´t be sure what´s out there.
The signalman is evidently going to be an important character once they get talking and his actions are very weird to start off with ;He stands intently in the railway with his hand on his chin, not moving a muscle until they are face to face “Before he stirred I was near enough to have touched him”. Also when they do meet he makes no attempt to start the conversation, instead he looks at the red light “Look towards the red light” ;He seems very mysterious and unpredictable. As they begin to talk again the man becomes slightly hostile and the narrator speculates that he might be a ghost “This was a spirit”. This is a very tense point in the novel because the ghosts identity may have already been revealed, but the signalman begins to show fear and asks if they have met before. It makes you think, why should the signalman show any fear? After their conversation the man leaves and the signalman tells him that on his return journey not call out those words. “Halloa! Below there”. It builds tension over what these words really mean to the signalman and why he is scared of them.
The signalman himself looks mysterious “A dark sallow man”. This would add to the reader´s suspense and build up the tension as he gets closer.
They retreat to the signal box and from his long description you realise that he is quite a knowledgeable man “Worked at fractions and decimals”. If he is so clever why is he a signalman? He is also a very skilled workman ”Safest of men to be employed. These questions add mystery to his identity which in turn builds up the suspense. Within their talk, the signalman looks outside toward the tunnel more than once. This creates expectancy of what´s going to happen.
In the first conversation he tells the man that he is “troubled”. This makes you ask the question what is he troubled about and does it have anything to do with his weird actions previously? Could he be or knows the ghost? These questions make you think about what´s coming round the corner. This also builds suspense.
On the man´s return visit he is told about the mysterious figure and how it disappeared. “It was gone”. This long passage describing the ghost´s actions adds tension and expectancy that it will come again. He also clears up his odd actions (when he looked down the tunnel). The ghost says those very same words. We now know that he is not the ghost so some tension is lost but it is now a matter of if the man will see the ghost and what it will say. He also tells the man of the lady who died in the carriage just after he had seen the figure “Within six hours after this appearance, the memorable accident happen”. You begin to associate the spectre with death and who´s death will it contribute to next.
The story is written in first person so it feels like it is actually happening at the same time you read it. This is evident when he talks with and about the signalman “You look at me as if you had a dread of me”. Neither you or him know what the response is going to be. His manner is described as “seemed to make the place strike colder to me, but I said no more”. He describes it as it happens which adds suspense. This a weird description to give someone, could he be the ghost?
As you here about the ghost, the gentleman´s actions are very dismissive. This is true as it would be the natural response, but as they are in a deep cutting which hasn´t much human contact you begin to believe him. The man has the same reactions when he hears about the second ghost. “Deception of his sense of sight”. You have the same time to make a decision as he does, but you already know there will be a ghost.
The man seems brave and dismissive of things which could potentially harm him. Maybe too dismissive and this could get him into trouble, but he doesn´t seem like he is a victim. The signalman has this role. In the end it is the gentleman´s fault that the signalman dies because if he hadn´t called down to him in the first place, the signalman would have looked up as the train came down the tunnel. “Below there, look out”. The first words of the story are the most decisive words of the story. Could it have been fate? And no matter what had happened between the start of the story and his death, it couldn´t have been prevented. “The words which I myself - not he – ;had attached”. He obviously feels responsible for his death and you feel that if he hadn´t associated himself with the man none of this would of happened. This is quite a mysterious and even scary thought.
It is evident that Dickens creates a lot of suspense throughout the story with the opening words and as he descends the cutting, looking at the signalman whose actions are very weird. Suspense is also created as the signalman tells the gentleman of the weird happenings recently. The settings are very mysterious and even prone to something like this happening. Dickens´ ;ability to bring mystery, unexplainable, and first person narrative add up to make suspense in the story.

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