The “low” ceiling seems as if it is pressing down and the smell of the fumes is “vile (and) stupefying;” as opium is The Bar of Gold’s trade, it is implied that the place itself have taken on these characteristics. Describing it as “Thick and heavy” makes the smoke seem almost tangible, smothering an already claustrophobic room. Doyle dehumanises the patrons of the opium den in various ways: they lie on “wooden berths” like an “emigrant ship” packed in like a commodity and not treated with respect.
Their “bodies” are “lying in strange fantastic poses,” they are just bodies and not people, and they have been taken to their own fantasy world by the drug. Watson can only catch a “glimpse” of them, making them like creatures appearing suddenly out of fog or in a nightmare. This, along with the “red circles” and “burning,” and the original descent into darkness to take Watson here subtly compares the place to hell. That it is also June intensifies the heat and discomfort.
The “muttering” is worrying as these people cannot quite be heard and may be saying sinister things. The sudden “gushes” of conversation break the silence abruptly, and the participants are not paying attention to each other calls to mind the frightening irrationality of nightmares. They seem both malevolent and to be pitied, as they are not in control of themselves. The foreign “Malay attendant” would seem suspicious to Victorians. The opium itself is foreign and alien, although ironically, the opium trade was controlled by the British government.
When Watson finds Holmes, they then travel to The Cedars, Neville St. Clair’s home, similar to Watson’s house, that is another contrast as a place of warmth, comfort that and light. These two stories belong to the same genre, mystery, and so do share some characteristics, but they are also very different. In both, there is a descent into a significant place that introduces the character to the danger of the main plot. As had already been mentioned, this is often used in mystery and ghost stories, and it refers to the descent into hell.
This is particularly obvious in The Man with the Twisted Lip, where Watson goes into somewhere hot. The railway in The Signalman, on the other hand, is cold and wet, although this is somewhat like the Ancient Greek underworld. This difference in temperatures is suited to the different tones of the story. Dickens set The Signalman somewhere cold to increase the sense of solitude and eeriness, whilst the longest description in The Man with the Twisted Lip is of somewhere hot, to suit its need for a feeling of danger and excitement. In both, this supposed hell is down to man.
In The Signalman, the railway, a recent invention, cuts through the natural world, and it is implied that people were never meant to go into this dank place. In The Man with the Twisted Lip, the opium den is more straightforwardly a creation of the human craving for new experiences, however harmful these may be. They generate suspense in different ways: The Signalman is a very static story set in one place that moves at a slow and deliberate pace. The tension builds through the apparent presence of supernatural forces and the realisation that a disaster is inevitable.
The Man with the Twisted Lip, on the other hand, is constantly changing setting and something new is always being revealed. The Signalman even keeps the reader in suspense at the end with an open ending whereas The Man with the Twisted Lip has an ending that, though outlandish, is a complete resolution. They are both first person narratives, so the descriptions are not just what the settings look like, but what the characters feel while they are there, such as the narrator of The Signalman saying that the line “struck chill” to him.
Both contrast their threatening locations with another, secure one: the signalman’s box and the homes of both Watson and Neville St. Clair. It is interesting how fire can be a comfort, as in The Signalman, or it can increase the impression of danger. However, in The Signalman, this place is only a small haven amongst the darkness, whereas The Bar of Gold is somewhere briefly visited and then the characters return to their own world. Darkness is used to raise the tension in both stories; the word “gloom” is used repeatedly in each.
In the Signalman, the only light is the red “danger light” that the spectre appears underneath, and in The Man with the Twisted Lip, The Bar of Gold has a “flickering oil lamp” outside, casting moving shadows, and Watson cannot see clearly inside. This is the essence of the human fear of darkness, used to great effect in much fiction: that there may be something near that could attack, and we cannot see it to defend ourselves. Sight is not the only sense used to describe the settings. The Signalman includes the feeling of damp on the wall and the cutting, and in a way, the so-called ‘sixth sense’ to feel the supernatural.
The Man with the Twisted Lip incorporates sound and smell in the “clink of horse’s hooves” and the “fumes. ” This more fully creates the desired atmosphere, as it is easier for the reader to imagine themselves in the setting. The Man with the Twisted Lip is set somewhere identifiable; although Upper-Swandam Lane itself did not exist, many readers would be familiar with similar places, and would be living in places like Neville St. Clair’s house in Kent. Doyle also mentions the real counties of Surrey and Middlesex on the way to The Cedars.
The setting of the Signalman is not named; the reader only knows it is a stretch of railway line, presumably somewhere in the countryside. This is in a way similar to Swandam Lane- it is a fictional but nevertheless very real place, and there were (and still are) railways running through dismal stretches of countryside. Dickens and Doyle have chosen their settings carefully to create the appropriate atmosphere of tension, foreboding and menace. This pathetic fallacy draws the reader in and adds to the interest of the story.