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    The Signalman by Charles Dickens and The Landlady by Roald Dahl Essay

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    The Signalman is a short story from the author Charles Dickens and was written in the mid 19th Century; The Landlady is also a short story written by Roald Dahl. The Signalman is a ghost story and The Landlady is a mystery story; however, there are many similarities that the two stories show. At the start of The Signalman there are many things that seem strange. The signalman from the very opening is peculiar; his actions, such as how he looks at the narrator with “fixed attention” and how he doesn’t even acknowledge him, is far from seemingly normal behaviour.

    The description of the train approaching the tunnel is also strange. The train is said to have “had the force to draw me down”, implying a supernatural presence right from the start. The opening of The Landlady, however, is quite different. Everything at the start seems to be perfectly normal – that is except Billy Weaver who is already shown by Dahl to be very naive. One key thing in the opening is the appearance of Bath itself.

    Baths seems to be a place with no character, as when being informed about the houses we are told they are: – all of them identical -“, giving no individuality or character to the city. The city seems old and run-down shown by how the “paint was peeling from the woodwork on their doors and windows, and that the handsome white facades were cracked and blotchy from neglect. ” The overall view we receive of Bath is that it is simply dead, which is a direct link to The Signalman; this is except for the Bed and Breakfast. The inside of the Bed and Breakfast contrasts dramatically with the outside as Billy looks in.

    It seems warm and comfortable with the flowers, the “bright fire” and “the pretty little daschund”, which we later discover to be a great misconception on ours, and Billy’s, behalf. The outside, which seems dead, is completely different to the inside of the Bed and Breakfast, which is full of life with the flowers and the animals. The Signalman brings the reader to an appearance of death and gloominess, which is the environment in which everything in the story happens. The Landlady creates a false sense of reality with the Bed and Breakfast seeming very different from what is actually the case.

    The Signalman is set in a dark, gloomy, damp place. The position is very isolated in a “deep trench”. The only way down is along an “unusually precipitate” path made of “clammy stone”, which “became oozier and wetter as I [narrator] went down. ” The narrator describes the place to be the most “solitary and dismal place I ever saw. ” As the narrator went down further along the path he became aware of an “earthly deadly smell” that was because the region never saw sunlight, the source of all life. The further the narrator passed down the path the more it seemed to be an “unnatural world”.

    The picture that we, the reader, imagine from the description is very much like a grave; very fitting as both that, and the story itself, is involved with death. The Landlady is set in a major city, but not at all one full of life. Again this story is set at night. The air is said to be “deadly cold” with the wind like a “flat blade of ice” on Weaver’s cheeks. Here there is an impression of pain from the cold wind but there is also pain in the signalman with how he suffers greatly with what happens.

    The contrast comes only when we see the Bed and Breakfast, which is completely different. Both of the stories are set in isolated places with the entire story of The Signalman being set in the signal box and the surrounding valley, and The Landlady being set mainly in the house. Isolation is a very important part to both stories as it is a key factor in most ghost and mystery stories, the two genres to which these belong. Both The Signalman and The Landlady have very themes to the stories, beyond what we actually see.

    In The Signalman the main theme is showing us the effect that isolation has on someone. Through the character of the signalman, Dickens shows us the fear and haunting someone can undergo when away from the rest of the world. Dickens also looks upon fate and destiny throughout The Signalman and the idea that we can’t do anything about what has already been decided for us. In The Landlady Dahl is also focussing on isolation but not in the same way as Dickens. Here we are the ones that experience the fear for what may happen to Weaver, but the character himself is completely unaffected.

    Both of the stories also have the theme of the unknown, and also death, but are very different from one another; in The Signalman the unknown is in the spectre’s appearances and what they mean, where in The Landlady the unknown is with why there have only been three guests in total and also with what is going to happen to Weaver. From the two different stories we are shown that fear is clearly something in the mind; with how we see things in The Landlady without any actual evidence to substantiate our views, and with how the visitor sees things in the story compared with the signalman. The characters in The Signalman are vital for the story.

    The signalman is shown to be a very strange character right from our opening introduction to him. His behaviour with how he expectantly looked down the line, and how he ignores our narrator initially, then when he does turn to our narrator he stares at him with “fixed attention” but doesn’t speak is hardly what could be considered to be normal behaviour. He seems to be very distant and mysterious. When the narrator sees him he seems a “dark sallow man”, someone whose entire features are dark, with how the narrator describes him to have a “dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows” creates tension.

    However, despite theses strange qualities, he seems to be a very reliable person who is worthy of great credibility and is excellent at his job. His brightness is clear as he has “taught himself a language” but we are also told that he struggles with other things such as figures. The most important thing we see about his character is how dedicated he is to his job. He is definitely a credit to the company from what we see. The visitor, our narrator, is a very inquisitive person; this is clear by how he initially goes down to the signal box.

    He is also a very caring person, shown with how he thinks about the narrator and what is best for him. However, he is also very responsible with how he is worried about the signalman’s state of mind for the safety and well being of others. He is rational and punctual but apart from this we know very little about him apart from it seems that he is not from around the area. The characters in The Landlady are very different from those in The Signalman. Billy Weaver is an eager and enthusiastic young man, who is also very gullible and naive.

    This is clear from his ridiculous idea on briskness being the way to success, which is very humorous to us, the reader. His naivety is also shown with how he doesn’t suspect anything with the landlady. The landlady is a very strange character, but not at all in the same way as the signalman. Her behaviour is very irrational. Her attitude could simply be considerate and caring but we don’t see this as being the case and rather see it as a false front. In fact we know very little about this, but this only adds to the mystery of the story.

    The styles of the two writers also differ. Dickens uses great descriptive passages throughout the story. He also uses vivid imagery, such as how he describes the setting of the story to be a tomb or a grave – both of which are a direct link to the events in the story. ie. Death. Dickens also uses metaphor in his descriptions a great deal, such as “great dungeon”. Between the two characters there are great contrasting views, which Dickens has incorporated to give us all possible views of the situation.

    Dahl, on the other-hand, focuses his style of writing in this piece on humour and dramatic irony. He brings the naivety of Weaver through to add to the humour and irony of each of the little pieces of revealed evidence throughout. He also shows everything from two sides. He gives great misconceptions throughout the story leaving us guessing at many things; perfect for a mystery story. In The Signalman the dialogue that Dickens uses between the characters expresses how the signalman is feeling, however, he more clearly shows this with the body language of the character.

    Being the first person narrative there is effective dialogue when the narrator is conveying his ideas to us directly; due to this style of approach, we can begin to visualise how we would feel in the same scenario. Quite simply because of the way the narrative is put to us we see things on a far more personal level than if it was simply a third person ‘overview’ of events. We also believe what we are told more readily but also question far more, as we question our own feelings. Dahl uses dialogue excellently in The Landlady.

    With how things are said, by the landlady especially, it leads us to see two sides of everything. Being in the 3rd person narrative we can simply laugh at the character of Weaver with how ridiculous he is. But, also, due to this style of writing, we begin to see all side to the story because of it being an overview. However, Billy is also quite an engaging character. Partly due to how naive he is, but also how eager and responsible he is, we begin to relate to the character as we too could put ourselves in the situation as we know little more about the Landlady than he.

    Dickens creates suspense by giving us dramatic pieces of information, which have no meaning on their own but serve to keep our attention and interest and also gradually build up the whole picture. The suspense in the story starts at the opening descriptions of the setting, and then the character of the signalman and his story, as we begin to build up a picture and gain an understanding of everything but cant; it end partly when we are told the complete story on the second night but only completely when the signalman dies as then we understand more about the spectre.

    Dahl, however, creates suspense because of the view we have of what could have happened to the previous two guests and what could be slowly happening now to Weaver. The suspense basically starts from when she opens the door but especially from when we learn that there have been only two other guests previous to that night. There is a great feeling of suspense we feel about the “bitter almond taste” to the tea. Dahl keeps the mystery going right through to the end, as without us knowing what is going to happen to Billy the suspense doesn’t go.

    Certain qualities of the plots of the two stories are the same: they both involve the unknown, death, both stories happen at night, and both involve unexplainable occurrences, or events. In The Signalman, Dickens looks at the supernatural with the connection between the spectre and the deaths of the different people. It also looks at the fact of believing people when there is no reason to do so. The Landlady has a very sinister plot but doesn’t have nearly as much depth as The Signalman. Therefore, I think the plot of The Signalman is more effective as with having more depth is more interesting to read.

    The ending of The Signalman wasn’t at all what I expected to happen because before that point nothing had happened to the signalman himself. The ending is very dramatic and the link between what the narrator says in the first line of the story to what the train driver was shouting is excellently thought out. However, I believe Dickens made a mistake with the final paragraph, as quite simply it just isn’t needed. Dahl’s ending to The Landlady is excellent for a mystery story as it is left completely open. We are left to guess at the end and make our own conclusions, as we have done throughout the story.

    Due to this, we also question ourselves as there is still no evidence to substantiate our claims of sinister happenings we see occurring. In conclusion I prefer The Signalman by Dickens as it has a better storyline and plot. His use of style, language, and dialogue are also excellent and add greatly to the story. The characters have been expertly created and elaborated upon through the events of the story. One of the biggest reasons I prefer Dickens’ story to that by Dahl is because of the themes it looks at and how it makes us question ourselves and our own views and so many things, and not just those looked at in the story.

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    The Signalman by Charles Dickens and The Landlady by Roald Dahl Essay. (2017, Oct 15). Retrieved from

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