The Moonlit Road by Ambrose Pierce and The Signalman by Charles Dickens
- Pages: 13
- Word count: 3135
- Category: Dickens
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The writers of horror stories play on their reader’s fears by using a short story to tell a story. In doing this, the writer concentrates on a main point in smaller detail which helps to maximize the impact of horror and suspense created. “The Moonlit Road” by Ambrose Bierce, is a Victorian horror story based on the murder of a wife and mother. His use of mystery towards the dead man’s wife, her story of death and a strange plot creates horror and suspense.
The modern tale “The Signalman” by Charles Dickens is based on the Victorian horror of trains. Dickens uses several unexplained sightings of a spectre and a ghostly setting to try and create horror and suspense. Both writers use the following five elements to achieve the sense of horror and suspense they are trying to create: plot and structure, narrative viewpoint, characters, setting, language and style. In “The Signalman” by Charles Dickens, horror and suspense is portrayed to the reader through using plot and structure.
It is based around three appearances from the ghost, where each one has significance to the story and gives more evidence as to what is going to happen next. The first visit in which the signalman experiences, conveys the exposition. We read how the signalman feels in “I am troubled” which shows he has a problem and he will lead onto these in the next visit which creates suspense. On the second visit, the ghosts’ appearances are revealed in the dialogue between the signalman and the narrator.
After the first sighting there is a train crash and after the second sighting of the spectre a woman dies onboard the train. And having a third sighting creates horror and suspense which is caused by the signalman asking “What does the spectre mean? ” Finally on the third visit, it is easy to see how the third appearance is significant as the narrator finds the signalman has died because of a crash on the railway line. We read that the train driver was waving his arm and signaling to the signalman as if to say “For God’s sake, clear the way! The train driver does not actually say these words, but it is the signalman’s interpretation of the train driver himself which creates horror.
Throughout the plot and structure of ghost stories the extra-ordinary is used in the most ordinary of situations. Similarly, “The Moonlit Road” a Victorian horror story based on three sections also gives three accounts of what happened as the plot is gradually revealed. The first statement is told to us by Joel Hetman Jr. where he reveals to the reader that someone has been brutally murdered.
He later goes onto tell us, “I may spare myself the details; it was my poor mother, dead of strangulation by human hands. ” A sense of horror is created through “those terrible finger-mans upon the dead woman’s throat” and suspense is created by the unexplained disappearance of his father in “When I turned to look for my father he was gone. ” This appears horrifying to the reader as this fact remains unknown. Caspar Grattan brings to us the second statement where another, perhaps significant part of the plot is revealed to us.
Suspense is created here as the reader learns that Caspar Grattan is a false character with a made-up identity, and as we read on we are made aware that Caspar Grattan is the murderer of Julia Hetman and the missing father of Joel Hetman Jr. Caspar has lived to regret the horrible crime of the murder of his wife when his jealousy and anger came into control in “Crazed with jealously and rage, blind and bestial with all the elemental passions of insulted manhood. In the second statement, horror is also portrayed in the horror of not knowing his own story.
It is horrific as Grattan remembers none of his life, everything he ever knew he had forgotten, “One does not remember one’s birth – one has to be told. ” Horror and suspense is created for the reader through the unearthly interest in the title of section three. The details of the afterlife of Julia Hetman are told through a medium, presenting her life as a ghost. The description given of the afterlife is made straight to the point and terrifying for the Victorian readers. “We know this well, we who have passed into the Realm of Terror” intensifies the horror of the afterlife.
We are told that Julia still has great love for her husband as she does not know that it was her husband who killed her. “Vainly I sought some method of manifestation, some way to make my continued existence and my great love and poignant pity understood by my husband and son. The fact that Julia has no idea of the identity of her murderer is perhaps the most horrifying point in her statement. The narrative viewpoint of “The Signalman” comes from the narrator who visits the signalman. It is through him his conversations, reactions and comments convey his disconcertion.
Dickens increasingly creates horror and suspense for the reader through the use of the word ‘daunted’ in “there was something in the man that daunted me. ” The signalman asking “What is this warning against? ” perhaps explains to us how he is worried about the spectre and knowing what it means as he asks it “ruminating with his eyes on the fire” on part of another sighting.
The narrators attempts to rationalize and his ultimate inability to do so is seen in the final paragraph through “but also the words which I myself – not he – had attached, and that only in my own mind, to the gesticulation he had imitated. The horror is the unexplained coincidences which we are left with that suggest some kind of supernatural experiences. The narrative viewpoint of “The Moonlit Road” is brought to us through a different narrator in each of the three sections.
In reading the first section of Joel Hetman Jr. we can see he is not what he says to be in that on the outside and materially he is happy but his inner self is that of a different matter, “I am the most unfortunate of men. Rich, respected, fairly well educated and of sound health. This appears to be a contrast between his outer and inner life – but in his moment of writing he was able to reflect on a happier past. By the end of the story, the naivety of his situation is horrifying when he tells us how his father “saw in the darkness indistinctly, the figure of a man,” where Joel Hetman Jr. cannot explain the disappearance of his father as he believes his mother was murdered by a stranger and not his own father. In section two the narrator is Caspar Grattan.
We want to sympathize with him due to his identity and lack of unknown life, “for previous existence I know no more than others, for all have stammering intimations that may be memories and may be dreams. ” He has to relate to what others tell him and make up his own new image and life story. But for the reader the suggestion and evidence that he has murdered his wife is horrifying. He gives us a blunt straightforward account of his actions, “With the purpose of seeking her I turned to leave the room, but took a wrong direction – the right one!
Although the ‘right one,’ the direction his jealousy was leading him to, was a ‘wrong direction,’ the one which led to the killing of his wife. “Instantly my hands were at her throat, stifling a shriek, my knees were upon her struggling body; and there in the darkness, without a word of accusation or reproach, I strangled her till she died! There ends the dream! ” This causes suspense as we do not know if he is talking about the end of a dream in his life and her death, or the end of her dream (life) with her secret lover.
Julia Hetman through a medium is the narrator of section three. In the third paragraph of her statement she recalls the night if her death. She remembers, “At last it came – a soft, irregular sound of footfalls on the stairs! They were slow, hesitant, uncertain,” which gives a sense of the unknown. “I even thought that I must have left the hall lamp burning and the groping of this creature proved it a monster of the night,” reveals to us how she will never understand what her husband did, she will always be deceived.
We also read how she still feels great love for her husband even though he murdered her “where I had been so cruelly changed to what I am” and how she has her desire to meet her husband again. In “The Signalman” we read much about his character and the type of person he seems to be. We learn perhaps “that he had been well educated,” and “he had been, when young a student of natural philosophy, and he had attended lectures. ” The narrator of this story though tells us how he can’t believe a man with such intelligence and capability is “sitting in that hut,” when he is able of much more.
Yet we read of his time spent ‘sitting in that hut,’ that in his own time and by himself he was able to teach himself a language of words and phrases, and algebra in mathmatiques. Throughout the story we read that the signalman was a very lonely man. He was thought to have been a “contented man” and in reading, it is easy to gather he never seems to have a lot of company or friends visiting him in his ‘hut’ and place of work. As the signalman was lonely, perhaps he was only imagining the spectre as an object to keep him occupied, he was only seeing things.
Yet, “By this time you will fully understand, sir” he said, “that what troubles me so dreadfully is the question, What does the spectre mean? ” may leads us to believe that he wasn’t only imagining this ghost as he was trying to convince the narrator to believe in it also and watch for its appearance. From this we can too suggest that the signalman had a mind of his own. Although he had a “peculiar low voice” which perhaps suggests he was a quite, gentle man we are told how he has a good sense of what others are interpreting, especially in the train driver who he translates as in saying, “For God’s sake, clear the way! yet the driver couldn’t be distinguished from the ghost in both his actions and words.
The final thing I think we learn about the character of the signalman is that he was clearly troubled. “He pulled out his handkerchief, and wiped the drops from his heated forehead,” shows the actions of an agitated mind and “It was the mental torture of a conscientious man, oppressed beyond endurance by an unintelligible responsibility involving life” in “His pain of mind was most pitiable to see. ” The setting of “The Signalman” is mainly based on the signal box and the train line.
The use of the tunnel too in the story helps to maximize the impact of horror created through the description given, “On either side, a dripping-wet wall of jagged stone, excluding all view but a strip of sky; the perspective one way only a crooked prolongation of this great dungeon; the shorter perspective in the other direction terminating in a gloomy red light, and the gloomier entrance to a black tunnel, in whose massive architecture there was a barbarous, depressing, and forbidding air.
A tunnel in itself gives a feeling of fear but the vivid description increases this feeling in the words used following the description of part of the psychological setting in “So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot, that it had an earthly, deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it, that it struck chill to me, as if I had left the natural world. ” The fear of the reader can be identified with the signalman telling us his feelings while standing in the tunnel are portrayed in ‘as if I had left the natural world’ where things weren’t the same, but a feeling of coldness and gloom was all around him.
With the signal box being situated near the tunnel there is always horror for the signalman as he is there by himself with so, “Was it necessary for him when on duty always to remain in that channel of damp air, and could he never rise into the sunshine from between those high walls? ” emphasizes again how spooky a setting this dismal train line was especially if you were there on your own. Perhaps therefore, this is why the signalman was led to believe he was seeing a spectre as his scared emotions overtook him.
The setting of “The Moonlit Road” however is based on two physical settings of in the house where the murder took place and the moonlit road itself where ‘moon’ gives a feeling of a gothic story. A third more psychological setting is perhaps that of where the late Julia Hetman is now. At the end of statement one by Joel Hetman Jr. the horror of the setting is seen through his description of ‘the moonlit road. ‘ The words and phrases he uses such as “in shadow,” “no light shone,” and “Black shadows of bordering trees lay athwart the road” all emphasize the spookiness used to add horror to the story.
These words and phrases used by Joel make an effective buildup before we are told about the disappearance of his father. With the setting being at night time and the use of the words in the title also in the story, “the full moon” in the sky helps us to concentrate on the unexplained of his disappearance. Suspense is especially created as there is no reason for his disappearance, “When I turned to look for my father he was gone, and in all the years that have passed no whisper of his fate has come across the borderland of conjecture from the realm of the unknown.
In the second section of the story by who we find out to be the father himself, Caspar Grattan, it is the mystery and setting of the murder of his wife in which creates horror and suspense. The build up is caused as he tells his wife he “should be absent until the following afternoon” when in fact he returns home ‘before daybreak’ and goes ‘to the rear of the house. ‘ This in itself causes suspense as we are unsure from here of what exactly he is going to do.
But as we read on Caspar tells us “With murder in my heart, I sprang after him, but he vanished without even the bad luck of identification,” so we can see that not only had he intended on killing his wife, but killing her lover also. It is made horrifying to us in the twelfth paragraph onwards of section two when Grattan explains to us in detail how he murdered his wife. “I entered the house and sprang up the stairs to the door of my wife’s chamber” and the darkness adds gloom and fear to the reader on its setting.
Finally, the repetition of the title is significant in “I stand among the shadows in a moonlit road. ” This emphasizes again the horror of that dark night when he disappeared unexplainably and as we read on while he is standing on this “moonlit road,” he is being haunted by his murdered wife, “I catch the gleam of white garments; then the figure of a woman confronts me in the road – my murdered wife! ” The language and style in both the two short stories, “The Signalman” and “The Moonlit Road” is similar in each.
Both Dickens and Bierce use language which creates horror and suspense throughout their stories to hold onto the readers’ attention. In “The Signalman” already at just the beginning of the story, the words “an angry sunset” make us aware that this writing will not be of a nice nature but one of perhaps gloom and fear. Later on the narrator tells us how “His manner seemed to make the place strike colder to me,” which suggests the signalman is cold towards others which maybe is the cause of him being alone and having no visitors.
Following this, the use of the word “wail” before the train incident is a tragic adjective which adds great detail to the meaning of the story. Likewise in “The Moonlit Road,” the language and style used helps to tell the story and add more impact to the meaning. Firstly, the words “dead of the strangulation by human hands” gives us a horrific image to the death of his mother. It is a sight which would not want to be seen by many.
Similarly in the second statement, by Caspar Grattan, “always and everywhere haunted by an overmastering sense of crime in punishment of wrong and of terror in punishment of crime,” brings to us the realization that death is brutal. There is no nice way of describing death and the word ‘terror’ brings it home to us. Yet, the most descriptive language can be seen in that of the third statement told through a medium of the late Julia Hetman. Presenting her life as a ghost, we are told how things of the after-life are that of forbidden.
The repetition of the word ‘no’ in “though for us it holds no sunlight, no warmth, no music, no laughter, no song of birds, nor any companionship” creates horror for the reader. When you die there is no going back, and we can sympathize with her even though she is dead as we read that even when her son dies, he will be a ghost like her but they will have no communication in “I have never been able to impart a sense of my presence. Soon, he, too, must pass to this Life Invisible and be lost to me forever. ”
In reading these two short stories, “The Signalman” by Ambrose Bierce and “The Moonlit Road” by Charles Dickens, there is a twist in the tale in both. In “The Moonlit Road” it is that Julia will never know who murdered her, and in “The Signalman” there are unanswered questions – things left unresolved. Personally I preferred the story “The Moonlit Road” by Charles Dickens as it was easier to understand and analyze the focus points in the story. It gave a more detailed descriptions of the events which took place and the horror and suspense was created to maximize impact on a larger scale.