‘The Signalman’ and ‘The Darkness out there’ both build up tension using distinctly different methods. ‘The Darkness out There’ is subtler in its approach to building up the tension; it hides the shocking truth beneath a cloak of near normality. So when the truth is revealed the reader experiences increased surprise and horror. ‘The Signalman’ in contrast builds up tension more by a series of tense and frightening events throughout the story that build up to the end event, the death of the signalman.
Both stories share a similar list of ingredients, both use tension to achieve horror and shock realisation, both have a spooky setting, and both have interesting characters. These are common elements in horror stories. Both stories however are written in different ages in time and so directed at different types of audiences. ‘The Signalman’ is directed at a Victorian audience that existed when the author Dickens wrote his short story, this audience was not as demanding as the modern audience because they did not have access to all forms of media and had not experienced many story alike to ‘The Signalman.
This is why the Signalman has a much more traditional approach to its horror story than ‘The Darkness out There’. ‘The Darkness out There’ was aimed at the modern audience that is more experienced of horror and is not so easily amused, as the Victorian would be. However both stories have succeeded in building up tension and horror for their audiences. ‘The Signalman’ is a story about an isolated Signalman who is haunted by a ghost. This drives him to the point of insanity. He is discovered by a wandering man who quickly befriends him and becomes interested in the lonely man and the life he leads.
He discovers that the signalman believes a spectre has been haunting him. He tries to bring rationality and reason to the situation but he ends up confused to what is going on after hearing the Signalman telling his account of his sightings of the spectre and the circumstances surrounding them. The Signalman tells the man of a crashed train, and a woman thrown off a train both occurring in or just outside the tunnel that his hut is outside of. Before each of these events happened he sees a spectre who waves to him and says ‘Halloe! Below there! he also hears a ghostly warning bell from inside his hut and sees a imaginary red light outside the tunnel that means danger.
The story ends up with the Signalman’s death by being hit by a train that is down to his haunting the train driver leans out of the carriage trying to get the Signalman off the track saying ‘Halloe! Below there! ‘ the spectre is giving him a future forecast of his death to come on the track. This appealed to the Victorian audience because it included trains, tension, and mystery. Train travel was a relatively new method of transportation in Victorian times, so it was seen as new exciting and dangerous.
The story made use of this unknown dangerous method of transportation by having the entire story based around a lonely signalman and the train track he stays by. This would make the audience interested in the short story and it would attract attention because it involved trains. ‘The Signalman’ would also appeal to Victorians because it was filled with horror and suspense that would seem a lot more intense and frightening in Victorian times than the present day because of the lack of things like cinema, and television.
The story would appeal to the Victorians because it was set in their time and used the language they used at the time. ‘The Darkness out There’ is about a young man and woman who journey up through “Packers End”, a local spooky location, to an old woman’s isolated cottage to help her with work around the house and to keep her company. The young woman starts off thinking her male companion Kerry Stevens is a “stupid so-and-so” and “her lot” doesn’t “reckoned much on”, she doesn’t think much of him at all only looking at his appearance and not what he’s really like inside however later on this is revealed.
They both talk to the woman and do some work for her, the old woman is keen to compliment the girl, “Well, you’re a pretty girl, Sandra”, but she doesn’t think much of the boy calling his hair, “sticky-looking” and it’s a “pity”. The old woman tells them about her husband that died in the war describing it as “tragic”. She then tells them about a plane that came down near her cottage and when she went to investigate it one of the crew was still alive. She then goes on telling them innocently and without regret or remorse about how she left him there wounded for two nights until he died. She didn’t fetch any help.
The shocking truth is brought out and the boy is horrified and the girl realises as they are leaving in disgust that he is not the person she thought he was and she has been shallow minded and petty. The girl sees through his exterior to the person that lies underneath. This the old woman could not do. She left the man in the plane because she saw him as a German a murdering German responsible for her husbands death wearing a German uniform, she didn’t see him as the young man in pain that he was. This story looks at the hatred and prejudice felt by many people in the war and what people can become if they let the darkness win over them.
This story appeals strongly to the modern audience. This is because it is a complex story with “darkness” hidden beneath a calm surface. It revolves around the philosophy that there is darkness out there, sometimes where people least suspect it and the darkness is everywhere. The appearances can be deceiving view also is used to great effect. These ideals that appearances can be deceiving are more modern ideas, in Victorian times emphasise was based around peoples rank in society, how well spoken they were, and how well off people were the story would not have been so popular then.
However in this modern world, this new era, some people have learnt to look past appearances and look underneath the skin to reveal the truth about people. This makes the story appeal to modern audiences. They can relate to the story and feel as though the story has some meaning. ‘The Signalman’ is a lot more blunt in its approach to building up tension than ‘The Darkness out There’. It does this through making it obvious to us that something mysterious is going on unlike ‘The Darkness out There’, which makes it much less obvious something is going on.
It also uses a much more unusual and eerie setting to build up tension and emotion for the reader. ‘The Darkness out There’ uses an isolated setting like ‘The Signalman’, but it is a much more natural common setting and is almost friendly however this is the point; the darkness is out there. Throughout ‘The Signalman’ we are given many clues and pieces of information, like the ringing bell that only the Signalman can hear and the spectre that appears before accidents involving trains.
However the full story is never revealed right until the end of the story, this leaves us with a series of episodes with cliff-hangers at the end making us want to read on. Then all the pieces of the puzzle are slotted together for us at the end. Then builds up tension well because it does not reveal what is really happening to the Signalman until the end where he dies. ‘The Darkness out There’ in contrast builds up an almost pleasant environment throughout the story but still with an element of tension and suspicion left in the back of our minds.
Then it shatters this false shell of security and comfort and brings out the darkness and the shocking truth about Mrs Rutter. In ‘The Darkness out There’ a lot is left to our imagination because as the title suggests to us there is evil and surprise in the story. This causes us to feel distraught and uncomfortable, we are left guessing what the darkness could be. This is unlike ‘The Signalman’ because in ‘The Signalman’ we always have some idea of what could happen next and we are pushed along the path of the story instead of trying to find it for ourselves.
The setting in ‘The Signalman’ is a cold spooky one. The setting builds up tension by its description. The setting in a horror story is very important because it sets the scene for all other events. In ‘The Signalman’ when we are first introduced to the setting we are given a picture of ‘a steep trench’ and ‘an angry sunset’, the fact that the trench is steep and the sunset angry gives the reader an unsettled feeling and it shows us that events in this story will indeed be strange and spooky. This description builds tension because it is abnormal making the reader start to feel uneasy.
Within the first several paragraphs of the story the setting is described to us in full building up a supernatural and threatening picture for us of the surroundings of the story. The wandering man finds “a rough zigzag descending path”, he also notes that, “The cutting was extremely deep”, “made of a clammy stone”, this makes us feel uncomfortable because the use of words are harsh and almost violent, “rough”, “extremely deep” and “clammy” these build up a picture of a very unpleasant damp treacherous place.
It is also described as “oozier and wetter as I went down”, “unusually precipitous” this gives the impression that the valley is very damp and wet these images usually are associated with depression. The walls of the “unnatural valley” described as “a dripping-wet wall of jagged stone” the area being a “great dungeon”; again Dickens use of unpleasant vocabulary is extensive. The track terminating in a “gloomy red light” followed by “a even gloomier entrance to a black tunnel”; here the image of darkness is used to create an evil unnerving atmosphere.
The tunnel is the focus point of the novel and Dickens illuminates its eeriness and foreboding atmosphere with this description. Other words such as “barbarous, depressing and forbidding”, “deadly” help to set this spine-chilling scene. This description builds up tension because frightening events usually come joined to unpleasant scenes in ghost stories. The lengthy description introduces the reader to the story and the kind of images and feelings that will be included in it. Dickens use of painful personification, like ‘angry sunset and ‘violent pulsation contribute greatly to the stories impact upon the reader.
A glimpse of the idea that something supernatural may be going on is described in the “chill” that strikes our wandering man he feels “as if I had left the natural world”. This builds up tension through describing an unusual feeling and makes the reader also feel a chill. We are told that the observer has a “monstrous thought” this being that he thinks the Signalman may be a “spirit” when first meeting him. This adds a lot of tension because it is a chilling supernatural thought, however it is clear that he is no spirit and we are left wondering about this and feeling tense.
The observer also tells us that he on looking back on the series of events has “speculated” whether the Signalman himself might have “infection in his mind”. This is unnerving and builds up tension because most people fear insanity and madness. This is unlike the scene built up by ‘The Darkness out There’. The scene built up in ‘The Darkness out There’ is a lot less threatening and damp, dark and depressing. It is not a supernatural atmosphere in the slightest. The story leads us into a sense of false security with its descriptions of characters and setting.
This puts us in such a relaxed state of mind that we are easy prey to sudden fear. “She walked through the flowers”, “Bare brown legs brushing through the grass”, and “A ladybird crawled across a toe” all make the setting seem very friendly and dampen the tension built up by the tales about Packers End, but the description almost seems unreal, too good to be true seeing that the title is ‘The Darkness out There’. The story still maintains an unnerving feeling due to the tales we hear from Sandra about Packers End, such as the tale of the girl at the mercy of “two enormous blokes”.
They are described as “gypsy types” this relates to the view of appearances can be deceiving Sandra is clearly prejudice against gypsies. The fact that Packers End is out of the way, and lonely and that there are tales of horrible deeds taking place there does build up some tension. Dickens vividly describes the Signalman in the first couple of paragraphs coupled with the setting description. His description builds up a picture of a man who is clearly abnormal and mysterious, this builds up tension because we don’t know who he is what is quite wrong with him why he is alone and isolated.
We are told by our good friend the observer, the wandering man, “There was something remarkable in his manner”, and his figure is “foreshortened and shadowed”, the Signalman’s appearance and his “manner” of moving is clearly strange and this helps building up tension through mystery. The Signalman matches his setting he is described as “a dark sallow man” these are images that are similar to the ones used to describe his setting like, “gloomy and depressing”.
He is shown from the start to be a very serious depressed troubled man, he is described, as being a man with a “dark beard” and “rather heavy eyebrows” these are features often associated with seriousness. His attitude is also strange and unnerving “one of such expectation and watchfulness”. These descriptions of the signalman add a lot to the general feeling of tension created from the start of the story because he is so alone, depressed looking and has unusual behaviour.
This might excite and grip the reader making him what to find out more while having a heightened feeling of tension. In ‘The Darkness out There’ the descriptions of the characters are very different. Sandra is described by Mrs Ratter to be “a pretty girl”, and Kerry Stevens to be “a nice strong lad”. Mrs Rutter describes the two people very positively and doesn’t hesitate to tell Sandra she’s pretty and that she doesn’t like Kerry’s hair, “a pity they put that stuff on their hair these days”. Mrs Rutter is described to be “a dear old thing” this is ironic because she is evil.
The descriptions of the appearances of the characters are very normal ones this lulls us into a false sense of security so there is more tension when Mrs Rutter reveals her monstrous behaviour. Mrs Rutter is very keen to praise or scorn the children’s appearances this illustrates that she looks only on the surface on people. The Signalman’s behaviour goes towards creating a feeling of tension. The way he is always checking the red light to see whether it is glowing red, and we are shown that he hears a bell ringing when the observer can clearly not, “It rings my little bell”, and the observer replies “how your imagination misleads you”.
The way the Signalman looks at the bell and the light believing they are active when the observer says they are not builds up tension. This is because we are given two different accounts of the events from two serious people making the events seem supernatural. At the end of the story when being told the account of events surrounding the Signalman’s death we hear that the Signalman was holding a lamp with his back to the train when it “drove” him down. This is unnerving because we now know the Signalman was unaware of the train or distracted by something else.
We too feel the desperation and distraction of his ordeal. He ‘wiped the drops from his forehead showing his nerves, and so making us feel nervous. The ghost’s repetitive behaviour makes us feel anxious and builds up tension. The ghost always shouts, “Halloa! Below there! ” He waves his arm and covers his eyes. ‘The Darkness out There’ uses short sentences to build up tension or emphasise a certain point. “Packer’s End”, is used as a short sentence and the end of a describing paragraph describing where Sandra’s route takes her.
This builds up tension because no information is immediately given about “Packer’s End” and we are left guessing what kind of place it is. Ending the paragraph with the two words ‘Packer’s End’ leaves us with a ominous ring that builds up tension, and we want to read on to find out about this place. When describing “Packer’s End” and a myth associated with the place Lively ends the paragraph with “People said”. This implies to us that no one really knows the truth and so builds tension. Later on in-between paragraphs we are given the two words “She screamed”.
This builds up a lot of tension because it comes following the sentence, “He rose from the plough beyond the hedge”. This makes us remember the tale told to use about gypsies and how “she was at their mercy”, and “they’d had a knife”. However Lively is just teasing us the man is not the gypsy rapist we feared but an acquaintance of Sandra’s, Kerry Stevens. This part of the story builds of tension even though there was no real danger because it comes so suddenly in the infamous “Packer’s End” and just after we hear the frightening stories about “Packer’s End”. Lively describes Mrs. Rutter as a ‘cottage loaf of a women which gives us the image of a warm comforting lady.
We also see her use of affectionate language and her kind gestures when she offers her visitors a ‘chocky, as she always ‘keeps a few chocies by for visitors and she calls them ‘Ducks. All these actions are those of a kind person, and we begin to like Mrs. Rutter. So we are prey to easy fright and the tension is heightened because we thought Mrs Rutter was a “dear old thing”. When we discover that Mrs Rutter has a terrible deed hidden behind her friendly exterior we are shocked because of all the comforting descriptions we have been given.
We feel a sudden rush of tension as we realise lines like, “good riddance to bad rubbish” are actually forecasts of what is to come and there is defiantly “a darkness out there”. Our cosy reality and our picturesque setting is shattered by the hard truth and we are left horrified like Sandra and Kerry. This is contrast to “The Signalman” because we are never given any security with ‘The Signalman’ we are always kept on the edge with the frightening scenery, and the strange things the Signalman does and says.
We are told by our voice of sanity the observer that the Signalman looks at him, “as if you had a dread of me”, the Signalman thinks he might be the spectre, and the reader is confused by this and tension is built up because we want to know what makes the Signalman look this way. “But I am troubled, sir, I am troubled” this line adds tension and anxiety because like the observer we do not know why he is troubled. The Signalman also tells the man before his first departure not to “call out” this leaves us on a cliffhanger because we do not know why the Signalman is afraid of the phrase “Halloe! Below there! ” and why he thinks they were conveyed to the observer “in any supernatural way”. The story is building up.
Pieces of the puzzle are being thrown to the reader adding tension. Lines such as “What does the spectre mean” and when the Signalman mocks the situation “If I telegraph Danger, on either side of me, or on both, I can give no reason for it” and he goes on “wiping the palms of his hands”, to imitate what would happen if he did telegraph a message of danger after seeing the spectre. This makes us realise the hopelessness and trouble the Signalman must be feeling.
It adds to our own tension and anxiety because we realise the Signalman cannot stop the accidents and the spectre will continue to haunt him until he dies. Building up tension is achieved in very different ways in both stories. ‘The Darkness out There’ is a lot more subtle and the tension comes on all of a sudden in a rush when we realise things are not as pleasant as they seem. Lively lulls us into a false sense of security with her stereotypical characters and picturesque setting very successfully and then shatters the dream bring out the darkness within Mrs Ratter.
The fact Mrs Ratter feels absolutely no remorse or guilt frightens the characters and us and we want to hurry away from Mrs Rutter in her isolated cottage like the characters did. ‘The Signalman’ uses a spooky setting, the weird Signalman, and a series of horror filled cliffhangers to build up tension for us. This is a much more traditional approach to tense horror stories and Dickens achieves it very successfully. However for me, an example of the modern audience, does not find ‘The Signalman’ very shocking or interesting. This is down to several reasons.
The story was written for a very different time where people were very different and unlike today they did not have access to television and the cinema where horror stories are regularly displayed for us. The Victorians were sheltered from the market of horror that has become so large one today. What would seem terrible and horrible for them seems tame and boring for us today. ‘The Signalman’ is written for an age and the age has passed. That’s why I find ‘The Darkness out There’ much more tense and horror filled than ‘The Signalman’.
The darkness out There’ plays the audience very well. It uses their own imagination and ignorance to the “darkness out there” to drive the story and makes me feel a sudden terrible rush of tension when reading about the “darkness” hidden behind Mrs Rutter. It uses a steep ascending slope of tension from the point in the story where Mrs Rutter tells her tale instead of in ‘The Signalman’ where there is no steep slope of tension just a straight line that wobbles from time to time. However if I was born about 100 years ago I think I would find ‘The Signalman’ a much more tense story.