Charles Dickens wrote the Signalman during the 19th century. The story is about a signalman that is haunted by a spectre. A stranger (the narrator) befriends the signalman and he learns of the signalman’s past. Charles Dickens creates suspense and fear in The Signalman in a variety of ways. In this essay I will discuss how he does this. Dickens begins to create suspense right at the start of the story by writing it in the first person narrative. He does this to put the readers into the story, to make the reader more involved and it makes us want to know what happens next. In my opinion
To add to the suspense, Dickens’ sets the story in the 19th century; during this time people were more likely to believe in supernatural happenings, they weren’t so sceptical. Thus the readers are more receptive to the idea of a ghost story than perhaps we are today. Dickens’ sets this story mainly at night; this provides more atmospheric tension and we could perceive more strange things happening in the story. Setting the story at night creates a more gloomy setting for the story, nothing is seen very clearly and it all relates back to the supernatural thoughts of the 19th century.
Modern work for television/films tends to be set at night. We have fixed ideas about things set at night. Dickens uses descriptive language to add to tension and atmosphere. He uses descriptive language and verbs in the paragraph where he talks about the train that passes the signal box e. g – vague vibrations and violent pulsations. He also uses language like this when he describes the settings of the story e. g – a great dungeon, a barbarous and forbidding air. Dickens uses different and unusual events in the story to create fear and tension.
When the narrator shouts “Halloa, below there”, we expect the signalman to look up and respond, but instead he looks towards the warning light at the mouth of the tunnel. This leaves us wondering why he does this and what will happen next, is someone coming up the tunnel maybe? When they are having the conversation in the signal box, the signalman looks towards the bell, but it doesn’t ring and we wonder what he hears or sees and then when he gets up to look outside, we wonder what Is going on.
Another example is when the signalman asks the narrator not to call out the words “Halloa, below there”, this makes us think that the signalman doesn’t like these words and something has happened in the past that has included these words. The signalman finally tells the narrator what is making him nervous. There is a spectre haunting him at the entrance of the tunnel under the warning light. He says the spectre wave’s one arm frantically and uses the other to shield its face. One time after the spectre had appeared the memorable accident happened on the line.
A train collided with another inside the tunnel and literally hours after the crash, the bodies of the dead and injured were being brought over the same spot on which the spectre stood, this leaves us asking the question, “did the spectre cause the crash, or was it warning the signalman that the crash was going to happen? ” The next time the spectre appeared there was another accident. As the train came out of the tunnel a newly wed woman died in one of the carriages.
We need to ask ourselves “did the spectre cause the crash or was he merely warning us? Dickens’ uses different adjectives and verbs to make different parts of the story more effective and atmospheric. One example of this is when the train is coming through the tunnel. “Vague vibration in the earth and air and quickly changing into a violent pulsation. ” The reader doesn’t know what is happening at this point, the phrase “vague vibration” suggests that the object is coming from a long way away. The setting is a very important part of the story. Dickens uses different and more complex language to describe the setting.
The story is set in a railway valley. There is the warning light, entrance to the tunnel and the signal box. Dickens’ uses very descriptive language to describe the valley, which makes the image we get of the railway valley, a creepy and dark one. He describes the setting as “extremely deep and usually precipitous”, “a great dungeon”, “and a great place for supernatural happenings with a barbarous and forbidding air”, these words say that the setting is dark and mysterious and not a nice place to be. The valley is like a dungeon.
The signalman is shut up in it all day and all night and he never ventures out to see the sunlight of day. There are many unanswered questions in the story. We do not know why the signalman asks the narrator not to recall the words “Halloa, below there”? We do not know why the narrator cannot call down to the signalman from the top of the bank. Another question that is not answered is – was the signalman’s death fate or suicide? We are left to think about this question at the end because it doesn’t say anything about it in the story.
When we get to part in the story when a character is asked a question that he doesn’t like or sees something that scares them, they go very quiet and quickly change the subject. Dickens’ doesn’t make then sound scared or make them look scared just make them feel it inside so it doesn’t seem strange to the other character. This can seem strange in some parts but it is used to show that the characters do not want to share their fear, but in most cases we get to find out what is scaring them. At the end of the story, we find out that the signalman is killed.
The narrator is not there to witness the killing but he sees some men doing an action near to the mouth of the tunnel. They are doing exactly what the spectre was said to do before the memorable accidents happened. They say that the signalman didn’t hear the train coming or the whistle blowing so maybe the signalman didn’t want to live because of the spectre haunting him or maybe he thought it was fate that he was going to die. In this essay I have stated many different ways in which Charles Dickens’ has created suspense and fear in The Signalman.
These ways are – When the story was written and how people used to believe in supernatural happenings, how most of the story is set at night, to give the story a spooky atmosphere, the way Dickens’ uses descriptive adjectives and verbs to describe happenings and the setting in the story, the setting and how it is the perfect place for spooky goings on, how the story is full of unanswered questions that keep us thinking throughout the story, how the actions of the characters and how they express fear and emotions in the story and how the end of the story adds a whole new twist to the story.
He uses all these different things to create a very spooky and complex ghost story that keeps the reader entertained throughout.