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The Red Room and The Signalman

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“The Signalman” was published by Charles Dickens in 1866 during the mid-Victorian period where at that particular time there was a conflict between scientific and modern thoughts with the old beliefs. This period was witnessing the industrial revolution. It was a time of great change whether in inventions or advances in technology and science. The story refers to inventions that were made recently including railways which were beginning to extend over the country as well as steam trains and signal boxes which now seem to us as an old invention, but at that time, they were great inventions that were remarkable.

During that time there were very harsh class divisions between the high and low class. Charles Dickens published the story almost a year after he personally eye witnessed a railway accident which killed ten people and injured more. “The Red Room” was published in 1894 by H. G. Wells, it was written in the late Victorian age. “The Red Room” is quite different from the “The Signalman” because it is written more in the gothic type genre.

Gothic story-telling is a type of horror which engages any mystic or unnatural powers that would terrify the reader, such as ghosts or haunted castles. The story is based in a castle which we later discover that it is not an ordinary one but in fact a haunted castle. The writer holds the reader in suspense using horror and irrational thoughts and ideas, which is every person’s worst nightmare to even think that such odd things even exist in the first place.

In “The Signalman”, the narrator opens the story by calling down to the signalman, indicating to us perhaps that the narrator is from a higher class or status than the signalman is, because he is the one calling from high up, as though he is in the light surrounding, and that the signalman is trapped down in the dark area with no importance or significance. This starts the tension at the beginning of the story by making us ask questions about the significance of the way the narrator is calling ‘down’ to the signalman.

There is a strange atmosphere foreboding being built up and is increasing gradually in the first paragraph, by informing us that the signalman didn’t detect from where the voice came from. The writer reinforces the odd feeling when he states: ‘There was something remarkable in his manner of doing so. ‘ This statement adds to the tension because it makes us wonder why the signalman didn’t notice that the narrator is calling him or is there another explanation behind this point. Overall the narrator is very patient and does not take the signalman’s actions as an insult, but rather as a mystery to be investigated.

The narrator uses dark and evil adjectives to build up the sense of darkness that the signalman is going through and living, such as ‘shadowed’, ‘deep’ and ‘foreshortened’ which increases the tension that we feel towards the strange signalman, because it reminds the reader of the gothic setting, so he will expect a supernatural event to occur later on. When a train approaches the narrator talks about how he started sensing the ‘vague vibration in the earth’ and air ‘quickly changing into a violent pulsation’ and an ‘oncoming rush’.

This increases the suspense of the reader because it makes the reader wanting to know more about this vibration in the earth and what is causing it. The narrator states the vibration ‘had force to draw me down,’ he describes the force that he felt that due to the vibration as if it had irrational and supernatural powers. The train is described as having ‘force’ to ‘draw’ the narrator down, because the narrator starts to feel vibrations as in the earth slowly, but after a short period of time they become stronger and more violent.

Also when the narrator feels ‘vague vibrations in the earth’ the alliteration focuses on the violent force. The narrator does not identify to us who ‘he’ actually is up to this point in the story, because he wants us to stay in a mysterious mood, one that will keep us asking ourselves questions. By also keeping his identity unknown he is already giving us a sense of darkness and leaves us curious, not knowing if he is good or evil. The narrator describes the signalman as ‘a dark sallow man, with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows’.

From the first moment he saw him, the narrator tells us that the signalman’s physical shape is dark and unhappy. The impression that the narrator took from seeing the signalman wasn’t quite the best, it adds to the tension by continually using the word ‘dark’ in the description. This begins to give the reader the feeling that the signalman was evil. The narrator describes the setting as ‘solitary’ and ‘dismal’. These two adjectives give us the feeling that the signalman is in a depressing mood and lonely place.

As we read on in the story the narrator describes the tunnel as ‘barbarous’, ‘depressing’ and with a ‘forbidding air’, all of these descriptions makes us in some sort of way feel sad for the life of the signalman due to the area of residence and atmosphere that he lives in. At the end of the paragraph the narrator summarizes all of the previous descriptions by stating: ‘as if I had left the natural world’, this means that Dickens is giving us readers the feeling that this place that he entered was out of this world.

While we read on in the story we discover that the signalman is educated and so our beliefs about his irrationality are dispelled. We are reassured of this when the narrator states that the signalman had worked on fractions and decimals previously. There is a conflict at this point, of whether the signalman is rational or irrational. As readers we are surprised, because we discover that he is educated and that he self-taught himself about various issues in life.

This is interesting for us to be aware of about because we are now asking ourselves the reason behind him acting irrationally, although he is educated, this also causes us to be eager to know the final answer. There is a change in technique to dialogue when the narrator starts to interrogate the signalman. The narrator desires to discover further about the signalman’s trouble when he says:’you almost make me think that I have met with a contented man’. This confirms that the narrator is curious to learn more and so he uses this phrase to almost force the signalman to declare more about the problem.

The signalman uses repetition when he informs the narrator ‘I am troubled sir, I am troubled’. This causes the reader to be very nosy and keen to more about the problem that is troubling him. The narrator expresses the signalman’s voice as ‘peculiar’. This adds to the suspense, because it is as if the signalman is afraid of something or someone hearing him. This fearfulness of anyone hearing the signalman is recurred several times when the signalman warns the narrator twice not to call out to him when he is at the top.

The signalman informs us that he recognizes the exact words, which he believes he heard before, and it is almost as if they have been called out before, this makes doubt if this is true or not. As the narrator is leaving he has ‘a very disagreeable sensation of a train coming behind me’. This is very strange, because it makes us now curious whether the narrator could be now irrational enough to think that there is a train coming near him. This ends the first visit, with us wondering about the irrationality of the signalman, and the effect on the narrator.

During the second visit, the narrator describes the signalman’s voice when talking to him as ‘a little above a whisper’. This is almost as if the signalman is telling him a secret and he is also afraid if anyone is going to hear him. The signalman says that he had a ‘mortal abhorrence’ of the place that he was surrounded by. This is fairly irrational, because it doesn’t exist in our rational world. The signalman tells the narrator the story of how he saw the red light and suspected that it was a ghost’s act with deep faith and truth, but the or narrator is doubtful whether to believe him or not.

The narrator tries to act rational but deep inside he knows that there is something wrong going on. The narrator refers to old beliefs when he is trying to prove to the signalman that there is no such thing as ghosts, but there are ‘troubled patients’ who need to be treated. The narrator says:’ A disagreeable shudder crept over me, but I did my best against it. ‘ This clearly proves to us that the narrator is doing his best to fight the irrational beliefs.

The narrator expresses the signalman’s look as a ‘fixed look’, which suggests that the signalman is trying to focus the narrator’s attention on the irrational thoughts that he was beginning to sense towards the red light. The signalman recites the narrator a previous accident which he witnessed which included a train and it contained many irrational beliefs. The narrator wants the signalman to feel with him the trouble of his mind, in order for the signalman to check if the incidents that he eye witnessed exist or are just illusions.

The narrator proves to the signalman that the ringing of the bell the night before was a misconception because he did not notice it and might have rang due to the station communication with him. The signalman still believes that that the bell rang the night before, so the narrator takes him outside next to the door and confirmed that there was no sign of any ghost ringing any bell. This increases the tension because we are now beginning to suspect that the signalman might be imaging illusions rather than seeing ‘ghosts’.

The signalman was ‘wiping the palms of his hands,’ which indicates to us that he is deeply agitated and is suffering physically. The narrator tries to find out from the signalman how the accident could be avoided or averted, so he talks to him in a tone of ‘desperation’ and anxiety. Later on as the visit gets to an end, the tension that was being built up gradually, wears off because the narrator has sympathy for the signalman and offers help such as him staying over for the night but the signalman refuses. This ends the second visit.

The third visit means that it is an unlucky number; as a result unlucky events might be occurring during this final visit. At very end of the second visit, the narrator states: ‘I looked more than once looked back at the red light as I ascended the pathway. ‘ This is fairly inexplicable because it is not based on any facts or even suspicions. The narrator admitted three reasons that he didn’t favor, which is also unlucky. The narrator didn’t ‘like the two sequences of the accident and the dead girl. ‘ When he talks about the dead girl he is emphasizing uncertainty and bewilderment about the incident.

The narrator asks rhetorical questions such as: ‘How ought I act’, this helps build tension because it makes us think what action should he take. The narrator wonders if he should ‘stake his own life,’ we are getting hints If this could be a matter of life or death and this increases the tension by making us feel that the problem is increasing and is turning to be deadly. The narrator ‘resolved to offer to accompany him to the wisest medical practitioner. ‘ This proves to us that the narrator is thinking rationally and wisely by taking him to a doctor.

The narrator states:’ it would then be time to go to my signalman’s box’, the word ‘my’ informs us that the narrator has dedicated himself to the cause of helping out the signalman. The narrator feels that he ‘cannot describe the thrill that seized upon me,’ this suggests that the narrator thinks that he is going to see the ghost finally. Also ‘thrill’ suggests excitement and ‘seized’ quickens the pace as we are now willing to know even more about the upcoming events. We are now reaching the highest point in the climax. The narrator uses the phrase: ‘nameless horror’ to express what he observes.

He uses the word ‘nameless’ because he is not quite sure of what he spotted, and uses the rather dark word ‘horror’ because there is something horrifying from the scene that he glimpses. The phrase ‘was not yet lighted,’ increases our sense of expectancy, because we are now expecting an event to take place shortly. The narrator uses alliteration when he states: ‘flashing self-reproachful fear that fatal mischief had come of my leaving of the man there’. This use of alliteration focuses and concentrates our attention on the fear of death. In the next dialogue concerning the signalman’s death the narrator asks three questions.

Use of the word ‘composed’ in the phrase ‘his face was quite composed’ is to propose that the signalman is quite calm and finally at rest, as well as he maybe felt that he was relieved. The narrator is totally in shock when he says:’ Oh, how did this happen, how did this happen? ‘ The expression ‘I started’ means that he jumped out of shock, the phrase is put alone (not in paragraphs) to make us feel the emotional reaction.

After the signalman’s death we feel the narrator was part of it. We are left asking the same questions that the narrator is asking such as: ‘could this be explained? . This is purposely meant so that we keep wondering and creating reasons to explain the incident. We are left hanging at the end. The suspense that has been building up suddenly fades away. ‘The Red Room’ is written using contents and settings that purposely do not link to any particular time. The story contains some Gothic rudiments such as ghosts and haunted castles. The narrator seems to be well confident of himself of not being frightened by ghosts when he tells the withered arm man that ‘it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me.

Then the withered arm man replies to the narrator by saying:’ its your own choosing’; this suggests that he is giving him a fair warning, that whatever occurs is his own decision(he agreed upon) and might be his own fault. The narrator is beginning to feel that the people in the house are trying to create a horror atmosphere of the house, by constantly talking about the frightening events that had occurred in the house in the past. The narrator reassures us that he is going to act rational and wiser than the old people by saying:’ If I see anything tonight, I shall be so much wiser’.

The narrator describes the old second old man which entered using rather eerie adjectives such as:’ decaying yellow teeth’ to prove to us that he is quite creepy himself. These descriptions create tension because they allow us to imagine this old man’s physical features, which are quite scary and pitiful. Then old man repeats the phrase ‘its your own choosing’. This suggests to us that there will be many events that might occur later and so the old man is giving him a previous warning. The narrator describes one of the old men’s shadow as ‘monstrous’, which indicates to readers that he is evil and dark, which also creates tension.

The old woman says: ‘this night of all nights! ‘, which suggests that during this night the narrator will witness events that he has never seen or went through before and dark events will also occur. When the woman told the narrator the directions to his room, she refused to show him the path to it and told him to ‘you go alone’. This proves to us that the room is so dark that the woman refused to even show him the location of the room, and this creates tension because it makes us wonder about the darkness of this room.

As the narrator was walking down the path he describes it as ‘chilly, echoing passage’ this adds to the suspense because it confirms to us that the passage is frightening and must be scary to walk down through. When the writer refers to ‘oddness of three old pensioners’, the rule of three is used (unlucky number to use or mention) to describe the three old pensioners whom he considered to be very strange concerning their external look such as the withered arm and their mysterious saying which keeps being repeated:’ its your own choosing’.

The writer informs us that up to this point he is putting a lot of effort to keep himself in ‘a matter if fact phase’, this is happening because of the odd events that he has witnessed so far and the odd people that surround him. The old people begin to make the narrator think of irrational thoughts constantly, but they seem to succeed slightly in scaring him or at least make him believe in any of the dark thoughts said to him. This increases the suspense because we begin to suspect that if what they are saying is true or false.

When the writer declares to us the statement ‘matter of fact phase’ he is trying to give everything he suspects to be strange or odd a realistic and sensible reason, and most importantly not to fall into the trap of believing in ghosts or any of the unreasonable beliefs. The narrator believes that the particular matter of believing in ghosts only exists in the minds of old people and modern day people like him who are rational about such things. The writer describes the passage that he is walking through as ‘long, draughty subterranean’.

These descriptions give us the impression that it was very scary to walk up as it appeared to the writer and eventually to readers, to be under the actual world that we live in and that was in fact below the ground floor but in the writer’s thoughts below the world. It is then described as ‘chilly and dusty’ to indicate to us that it was deserted and abandoned and most importantly to give us a slight sense that it was haunted and had never been visited by humans for quite a long time.

All of these descriptions of the passage that have been mentioned so far, that the writer was walking through, are gradually enhancing the gothic-like setting and are built up slowly possibly to reach a final conclusion (whether to believe in ghosts or to be rational). This adds to the tension and suspense because after all the descriptions we expect the writer to be scared. As the writer enters the room he is almost in shock, and he senses that ‘the effect was scarcely what I expected’, this indicates to us that it was hardly what he had in mind, because he expected the room to be in chaos and in ruins.

We are also surprised when the writer says that ‘the house might have been deserted on the yesterday instead of eighteen months ago’, because the description of the passage is completely different from that the writer mentioned concerning the room especially when the writer said that’ one fled before me into the darkness overhead’ when he was walking through the passage. The writer creates more tension when he talks about the ‘Great red room of Lorraine Castle in which the young duke had died’, this creates tension because it raises a lot of questions about his death and how did it occur.

The writer is now starting to add in information to scare us, which would increase the suspense of the readers gently. The writer uses the term ‘germinating darkness’ to suggest to us that the darkness is going to increase and might take over. It also points out to us that his own fear and irrationality are increasing and it suggests a living presence. This again increases the tension because we are now beginning to realize that the darkness is growing gradually. The writer uses personification when he describes the smaller section of light as ‘a little tongue of light’, it reveals to us that there is a conflict between good and evil.

The writer feels that the darkness ‘obtained a hold upon me’. This increases the tension and suspense because we feel insecure as if someone is taking control of him. The writer suspects that he ‘still found the remoter darkness of the place’. This increases a lot of the tension since this proves to us that the darkness is still alive because he still feels or actually sees that there is darkness in the place and the light in the room is not covering the entire room. The writer believes that ‘The fire’s flickering kept the shadow and penumbra perpetually shifting and stirring’.

This indicates that there is some kind of presence because shadows are moving so it is reflected upon the fire. The alliteration used here focuses on how the fire was almost fighting against the shadow. The writer proves to us that the darkness seems to return when he saw ‘the black shadow sprang back to its place’. The contrast is obvious between his earlier confidence and now especially when the writer begins to feel that odd things are happening (ghosts around) when he clearly states that he’ Saw that the two candles on the little table by the fireplace were extinguished’. Even the writer is shocked when he ‘rose at once to my feet’.

When the narrator senses that his ‘hands trembled so much that twice I missed the rough paper of the matchbox,’ this indicates to us that he is losing control of himself. He is trying to find more light, because darkness is now taking over. The writer imagines irrational thoughts such as him seeing an invisible hand sweeping out the two candles on the table. He is imaging that darkness is overtaking the remaining light in the room. The writer uses personification when he is aware of a ‘Steady process of extinction’, this clearly proves that there is an extinction of light in the room.

The writer proves to us that light is winning when he states:’ I was now almost frantic with the horror of the coming darkness’. This suggests to us that he is losing control and almost taken over by the darkness. The word ‘vanished’ is used in the pattern of three, it is repeated three times to highlight the fact that flames or anything related to light are disappearing completely from sight. The writer finally feels that ‘Darkness closed upon me like the shutting of an eye’, the writer is signifying to us that darkness is taking over in his brain and it is an effective simile because it is as if it is the end of the man’s life.

When the man recalls ‘Then I think I must have staggered to my feet’, this proves to us that the narrator wasn’t aware of what he was doing, as if he was blinded with fear. This increases the tension because we suspect and almost accept as true that darkness took over at the end. The climax has been reached at this point in the story. As soon as the writer states:’ I opened my eyes in the daylight’, the tension is gone all of a sudden due to him waking in the daylight and light entering the room and most importantly the fact that he is alive. The odd people think that the man is one of them since he assumes that the room is haunted.

Us readers and the old people are wondering what the writer means when he first said that the room was haunted but without ghosts. Tension is building up again as we reach a resolution phase. The writer finally states that fear is what made the room haunted, he even wrote fear in capital letters as if it is a person. Lastly it says:’ So long as this house of sin endures;. This suggests that something evil has happened in the house to give such darkness. We are left asking questions at the end as there still remains a bit of tension because we don’t get an answer.

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