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The Signalman has an unsuspected ending

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“The Signalman” is a spooky, sardonic and peculiar story with twists and an ending that will shock and surprise you .The sense of death throughout the story adds a poky sense to make feel scared and traumatised.

The suspense is built tremendously using an extensive range of character descriptions and vocabulary. This is what the author, Charles Dickens special quality is and he does this in many of his other novels.

In “The Signalman” Dickens makes links to many other gothic fiction novels such as “Dracula” by Bram Stoker and Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein”. “The Signalman” builds tension just like “Dracula” using dark dingy atmospheric effects.

Darkness is one of the main aspects of gothic fiction used in “The Signalman” for example in “Dracula” “the stairs were dark, being lit only by loopholes”. Darkness adds a mysterious scary effect.

Another aspect of gothic fiction used in “The Signalman”, probably one of the most important aspects in this case, is supernatural forces. For example in the bone-crunching disturbing novel “The Haunted Hotel” the quote “The flesh of the face was gone. The shrivelled skin was darkened in hue, like the skin of an Egyptian mummy”. This quote shows supernatural forces present when describing an apparition. When supernatural forces are present you can believe the unbelievable in the story.

In “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bront� Jane is guarding a horrifically injured man close to a room that houses his attacker. In this senses are used to add mood again this is a common gothic fiction skill used also in “The Signalman”. In Jane Eyre a quote that shows this is “A sharp creak, a momentary renewal of snarling canine noise, and a deep human groan”, the use of senses with personification giving inanimate objects human qualities in “Jane Eyre” it shows how much pain the man is in by comparing him to a “canine”.

In Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” the young hero Jonathan Harker is suspicious of the count and single handed he goes in search of the counts secret. The theme of isolation and loneliness is used here to make it effectively think that it is you alone are in the story. For example when Jonathan Harker is recalling looking around for the Counts secret in the Counts house, “I went, but saw nothing except fragments of old coffins and piles of dust”

Getting on to “The Signalman” and how the opening two paragraphs, immediately in this opening tension starts to build. The first sentence “Halloa below there!” is speech however the reader has no idea who is saying what. This already is supposed to make you feel a sense of mysterious urgency as we have no idea what is going on.

Also when the narrator calls down to the signalman he does not look up at him he looks at the train line, although the reader does not know why he looked there it seems intensely strange. The reason he looks at the train line is that he thinks that a ghost from the rail is talking to him. We know this because of the quote “instead of looking up to where I stood on the top of the steep cutting nearly over his head he turned himself about and looked down at the line”. This makes the signalman’s character eerie and mysterious early on in the story.

In the Victorian times when this was written many people were actually suspicious and slightly scared of trains and the way the way a simple trains passing is described here could terrify someone back then. For example a train here is described as a violent pulsation which agrees with peoples beliefs back then.

The quote “angry sunset” sets the atmosphere and setting for the opening by giving an inanimate object a human characteristic it reflects the mood of the signalman, showing he is worried or upset about something already.

Throughout the story the signalman is portrayed as a particularly odd character. It is quite apparent there is something wrong with him but it is not obvious what. For instance when the narrator is trying to talk to the signalman, the latter ignores the narrator. It seems at this point already that the signalman is scared by the man as he just doesn’t reply, as it says “He looked up at me without replying” This also makes the narrator seem like his question was “idle” as it didn’t seem important enough for him to answer. The way the signalman ignored the narrator makes him seem like he is insulted and possibly angry.

Also the way the signalman’s movement is described makes him seem dull and robot-like. For example the phrase “he turned himself about” is repeated twice making it seem like a basic command, with purposeful lack of exciting vocabulary. He also had “fixed attention” at the narrator an odd robot like characteristic.

The Cutting is a small apace of land through which runs a train line. This is the setting for the story, setting atmosphere and reflecting the characters personalities. The Cutting is a spooky and disturbing place which reflects the personality of the signalman. We know it’s dull and disturbing through the quote “It was made through a clammy stone that became oozier and wetter as I went down”. The eerie effect is created by Dickens distinctive choice of vocabulary; the word “clammy” has more effect than saying deep or slimy building tension with a scary feeling caused. Also the word “oozier” has more of a deep watery lake like effect which makes it seem mysterious.

The Cutting is also in the middle of no-where, we know this because of the line “His post was in as solitary and dismal place a place as I ever saw”, the word solitary means be seclude or by yourself . This makes you think that he is not used to being in the company of others, making it hard for him to know how to act around others as he never see anyone else.

Also, the word “dismal” makes it obvious that the cutting is a dark depressing place, just like the signalman’s personality.

The metaphor “the great dungeon” is saying that, like a dungeon, there is no way out of the cutting making it seem scary and claustrophobic.

Initially the signalman is described as “a dark sallow man”. This makes him seem curious, odd and mysterious. All this comes to mind when someone is described as dark.

The signalman curiously acts like he has seen the narrator before in the tunnel. Although the reader doesn’t know that this is because the signalman thinks the man is a ghost. An example that shows this is when “He directed a most curious look towards the red light near the tunnels mouth, and looked all about it, as if something were missing from it, and then looked at me”. This shows the curious personality of the signalman and his belief in supernatural forces.

At the beginning of the story the two characters think that one another are a ghosts. For instance “The monstrous thought came into my mind, as I perused the fixed eyes and saturnine face, that this was a spirit, not a man.” This quote shows quite obviously the narrators initial opinion of the signalman.

There is no definite evidence that shows initially the signalman thought the narrator was a ghost however there is evidence that shows the man scared the signalman; “I detected in his eyes some latent fear of me”. By not knowing the signalman’s exact opinion it builds tension making the reader think that the signalman is a ghost taking sides with the narrator. This makes the reader have to work out what’s going on piecing together clues through the story.

The character of the signalman is an interesting, distinctive and disturbing one due to his odd behaviour throughout the story. For example some of the odd things he did on the first meeting with the narrator, “he twice broke off with off with a fallen colour, turned his face to the little bell when it did not ring, opened the door of the hut (which was kept shut to avoid the unhealthy damp) and looked towards the red light near the mouth of the tunnel”. By doing these things it makes you think if the signalman is mentally damaged.

“In his peculiar low voice, till you have found the way up. When you have found it, don’t call out! And when you are at the top don’t call out”. This is a quote from when the signalman and the narrator are planning their second meeting. There are two things you can pick up from it as well firstly we know the signalman has a particularly peculiar voice, this adds to the already weird character description of the signalman. Secondly the signalman distinctly asks the man no to call out which does seem fairly strange. It is actually because the signalman does not want to get the ghost confused with the narrator.

The reader should definitely know by now that yes something is troubling him, “What is your trouble? It is very difficult to impart, Sir. It is very difficult to speak of. If ever you make me another visit, I ill try to tell you”. This is where you want to read on to see what happens, building tension until you find out. The delay between the two meetings makes you have to read on further to find out what happens, building tension by teasing the reader.

Again building tension is achieved when the signalman asks the narrator about the words he used at the beginning of the story and if “they were conveyed to you in any supernatural way”, this introduces a supernatural element in conversation.

When the signalman tells the story he promised he shows no reluctance and gets into it straight away. He says “you should not have to ask twice what troubles me”, it seems like whatever it is it is important and he needs and wants to tell the narrator.

The phrase “Halloa below there!” from the begging is used twice in the signalman’s story under the belief that it was said to him by some kind of supernatural force. That is why “Halloa below there” terrified the signalman.

“The Signalman” has a strong element of death throughout the story. The first is the original train accident, for example the signalman said “the memorable accident on this line happened”. The second death is a young girl, “a beautiful young lady had died instantaneously”. The effects of death references add fear, mystery and confusion to the story.

The signalman says a ghost warned him about the first crash because, “six hours after the appearance, the memorable accident on this line occurred.

After the signalman had told his tale the narrator was scared but he won’t admit it, for instance “A disagreeable shudder came over me, but I did my best against it”. This shows how the narrator believed what the signalman said but is trying not to show it by hiding his fear. The narrator then calls it a “coincidence” but however, he soon reconsiders and says “men of common sense did not allow much for coincidences in making the ordinary calculations of life”. This shows the narrators confusion and conflicting ideas. This also confuses the reader making them have to think like the narrator.

The narrator is Yet again confused and scared as the signalman is describing the ghost. After the signalman is finished describing the ghost the narrator had to sit down to “partly to collect my thoughts, partly because it turned me faint”. This shows the reader that the narrator is well and truly scared and it shows that the reader should be too.

Throughout the story the signalman’s fear rises to the point where the narrator wonders if he is sane enough to his job. Evidence that shows the narrator was worried for the signalman’s sanity is, “I saw for the poor mans sake, as well as for the public safety I had to compose his mind”. This shows that the signalman was so scared he was jeopardising his sanity.

Further evidence that shows the signalman was scared is when the narrator asked him to come and look for the ghost with him, the text says, “he bit his under lip as though he was some what unwilling”. This builds tension as the signalman is scared of what’s out there.

But what bothers the signalman most is the fear of something tragic happening again. Solid evidence that blatantly shows this is, “There is dreadful danger over-hanging somewhere on this line. Some dreadful calamity will happen”. This builds tension tremendously as the reader is dying to know what that tragedy is.

Before the end of the story the narrator is on his way to see the signalman he saw “a man with his sleeve across his eyes, passionately waving his right arm”, this links back to the description of the ghost from the beginning of the story. However instead of being a ghost it’s a man. This naturally scares the man, “the nameless horror that oppressed me”, when he realises it is a man and not a ghost he is relieved.

The ending was completely unexpected and very surprising. The signalman believed that like the other two deaths someone else was next, he did not expect it to be himself though. He was run down by a train, the driver tried to warn him by saying “below there! Look out”, just like the ghost would say he must have been intrigued that the ghost from the tunnel was trying to contact him.

To conclude builds tension in a way only Dickens knows; the ending was throughout going to be a significant exiting one but not involving the death of the signalman, very surprising.

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