Despite the time passed between the writing of Dickens’ ‘The Signalman’ and Dahl’s ‘Lambs to the Slaughter’, they have certain similarities. They both focus around death and madness, and include characters that are written to make the reader question their sanity. They also both oppose the development of modern technology. However, they are written in completely different styles. Dickens’ piece is written in the first person, as in that it is written from the characters’ point of view. In contrast, Dahl’s piece is written from a narrator’s point of view, in the third person.
By writing in the first person, Dickens creates a sense of inclusion, that the reader is actually taking part in the story. It brings the reader closer in on the action, which makes the emotions feel more intense and the story more intimate. This is an apt format to have in a horror/mystery genre, as it heightens the effect of the writing, and makes the story feel more relevant to the reader. However, because Dahl is writing to entertain or amuse the reader, the third person format would be more suited.
It gives the reader an insight into someone else’s life, so they do not connect emotionally with the characters in question, and so they can find the predicament amusing. Also, Dickens uses complex syntax and complicated language. This may have been due to the period of time it was written in and the audience it was aimed at. It was written after the Industrial Revolution, just after the development of railways, which means around the 1870s. The story was probably aimed at the higher, educated classes, who, on the whole, thought that technology was a good idea and would invest in it.
Therefore, Dickens can use the piece to portray his morals, ideas and opinions to people who are intelligent and high-ranking enough to be swayed by his argument against technology and its effect on the human mind. This is mentioned as a part in the story, where the Signalman is in distress because he is only ‘a poor signal-man’ and has not ‘the power to act’ nor ‘credit to be believed’. Dickens, therefore, tries to appeal to an audience who has both of those assets and can take action towards his cause. Dahl uses language to build the characters and set the scene.
He uses less descriptive language than ‘Signalman’. This is because the short descriptions are used more to further the storyline and add short-term dramatic effect rather than to create a long-term build-up of tension, as in Dickens’ piece. For example: the ‘oily swirls in the liquid because it was so strong’ are used to show that something is out of place or odd, building to a release of tension a few paragraphs over, in contrast to Dickens, where each description builds to the final climax at the end of the story. The language Dahl uses is simple and not, as opposed to Dickens, complicated.
This is because it is set in the mid-twentieth century, and not aimed at a particular group of people, more to the general public. This is because the culture and society was different at the time of writing than in the century preceding, when Dickens was alive. In the twentieth century, the public in general had more power in opinion than only a small group of people, being the upper classes in ‘Signalman’. Therefore, by aiming the piece at society as a whole, his opinions can and will appeal to those who have the power to act.
Complicated language can also be used to describe and create imagery, which is very important in suspense and the building of tension. For example, the ‘barbarous, depressing and forbidding air. ‘ It gives the story its intrigue and mystery, which is mostly absent from Dahl’s writing. ‘The Signalman’ is far more descriptive and informative about the plot and the surroundings than ‘Lambs to the Slaughter’. In the latter, description is very basic, as the story relies on the plot, rather than the atmosphere and the surroundings to hold the reader’s interest.
The beginning of a piece of writing is the most important part of a story, as it is the deciding point of whether the reader will continue to read the story or not. The atmosphere of the pieces at first makes them seem very dissimilar, although the themes are in fact very alike. For example, in ‘Lambs to the Slaughter’, the opening suggests a very comfortable, homely scene, the epitome of what was then the ‘ideal’ household of the time, an ‘All-American’ 1950’s ideal. The reader is made to feel very complacent about how the story will carry on.
We are invited into this household scene, where everything seems to be perfect, ‘warm and clean’ as the ‘ideal’ home should feel. We are given a very positive image, and assume that the story will progress so. In contrast, ‘The Signal-man’ opens with a very aloof, ambiguous opening, putting the reader on their guard and makes them unsure of what will follow. By starting with speech the reader is made to wonder what, or from whom the speech is coming from. ‘Halloa! Below there! We do not know if this is a greeting or a warning, all we know is that the speaker is trying to grab the attention of both the intended recipient and the audience. This mystery of a warning or a greeting, and from whom especially as all the reader finds out in the first few lines is that the speaker is ‘a voice’ is played upon later in the story, thus making the first line the most important line in the piece. As to the introduction of the main characters, the stories are quite alike. The first few lines introduce the characters as a mysterious ‘he’ or ‘she’.
The readers are told about the character before the actual named introduction. This leaves the reader to build up a mental image of the character, of who he/she is, and what he/she does or is doing. However, the two stories are different in the way that they use this introduction. In ‘The Signal-man’ the person is actually identified in the title of the piece, but he is never really introduced formally, until he is dead. He doesn’t appear to have a name, which makes the reader uneasy about who he is, and instils an eerie atmosphere around him, distancing him from the reader.
This technique is also used to describe the ‘ghost’ that the Signalman sees. It is referred to as an ‘apparition’, a ‘spectre’ and an ‘Appearance’. This is incredibly ominous, making the reader unsure of who, or what this ‘ghost’ is. This means that the reader is able to interpret this ‘ghost’ in any way they like, be it supernatural, or the cynic’s view. In contrast, the main character in ‘Lambs to the Slaughter’ is introduced after a few lines, but by then, the reader is given a positive image of her and the room around her, by the words ‘fresh’ and ‘clean’.
She is portrayed in the first two paragraphs as the ‘doting housewife’, the type of woman who moulds her life around her husband and dedicates her life to him- she was ‘waiting for her husband to come back from work. ‘ She seems to have no life of her own. She is described as ‘placid’ and ‘tranquil’: which makes the following impossible to predict, and thusly, all the more comic. The stories are told in such a way as to shock the reader. In ‘Lambs to the Slaughter’, the tension is built up by the husband’s responses to her questions and his actions.
His short, one-word answers and peculiar actions the overly strong whisky puzzle the reader, as the wife and her surroundings describe him as a good, faithful husband, and his actions strike the reader, and the wife, as odd. Her description at the exposition describes her as pure, good, kind and even compares her to the Virgin Mary. This is evident in her name also Mary, and the way she has a ‘slow smiling air’ and her skin has a ‘wonderful translucent quality’. These qualities appear in many artists’ representations of the Virgin Mary.
In contrast, tension and suspense in ‘The Signal-man’ is built by the gradual revealing of the ‘ghost’. As the story progresses, we learn more and more about this appearance, and what relevance certain actions, overseen at the beginning, have to the story. For example, when the narrator first greets the Signal-Man with his arm raised, covering his eyes. At first, the reader does not think anything of it, but as the story is revealed; it is found that the ‘ghost’ had used exactly the same actions. The tension in ‘The Signal-man’ is also built up by the atmosphere created by the descriptions of the Signal-man and his surroundings.
The cutting is described as if it were a grave, ‘gloomy’ and a ‘great dungeon’. This introduces the theme of death and mystery. In all, the two pieces are alike in as many ways as they are different. They both state, as a main theme, death and mystery, be it in completely different ways. ‘Lambs to the Slaughter’ is a black comedy, where death is the murder of the husband, and the mystery is part of the irony. ‘The Signal-Man’ is a dark horror mystery, based around the supernatural. It’s seriousness sends a message to the reader, making them question who they are, and what they believe.
Both pieces oppose modern technology. ‘Lambs’ mocks the policing and latest forensic methods, and also the modern justice system. ‘Signal-Man’ critiscises the railways, and the effect of modern technology on an average person’s mind. It makes the reader question what is real and what isn’t. Modern film-makers use this technique to create suspense and confuse the reader: for example, ‘The Matrix’. Both pieces tell of the power of the downtrodden or unrecognised. ‘Lambs’ was set around the time of women’s rights, and so tells the story of a woman’s empowerment over her husband. Signal-Man’ tells of an educated man that would be ignored because of where he works, and how much power he has, or in this case, doesn’t have. It is a story of the working classes, a story that uses one man’s tale to inform the upper classes of the dangers of technology. It gives the purpose and moral of the writing a human identity, something that the readers can, themselves, identify with and feel sympathy for. The stories are both alike and different, but are, initially, of the same themes and ideas.