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“The signal man” and “The withered arm” both create mystery, intrigue and suspense effectively

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  • Pages: 8
  • Word count: 1924
  • Category: Mystery

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Today in the 21st century we are well used to entertainment that includes horror, suspense and intrigue, although it is now usually in films and it seems to be a good alternative to books. Horror films are becoming more and more popular and recent statistics prove this, the most popular films today are chilling and psychological thrillers. What makes these films so good? It may be because of the special effects, the storylines, the music or perhaps just the whole package. Can a good story have the same effect as a good film? “The signal man,” and, “the withered arm,” are very similar but also very different.

Both stories include death, spectres, premonitions, and both contain a lot of suspense and mystery. The writers use different ways to create different effects. Charles dickens was born in 1812 in Portsmouth, England. He was educated for a total of four years in two different schools. On the ninth of June 1865, while returning from France, dickens was involved in the “Staplehurst” train crash. He had a lucky escape as his was the only 1st class carriage not to plunge off a bridge that was being repaired. He spent time helping the wounded and dying before rescuers arrived.

This horrific tragedy may well have influenced Dickens’s views on trains and technology in general. This event in his life may well have given Dickens the inspiration for “The Signal man”. Everything in, “the signal man,” happens over a very short period of time, 3 days; I found this had a positive effect on the story as it kept the story intense and gave the reader a sense of involvement. Also the fact that there are only a few characters in this short story kept the focus on the main characters, I thought this was good in the way that it kept it simple and easier to follow.

I think that Dickens wrote this story to show how he felt about trains and new technology and to warn people that new technologies including trains are not all good. The setting of, “the signal man,” and his hut being very isolated was a good way of showing how cut off and lonely the man was. The way that the story is limited to only one place helps us to focus on the place and allows more detail of the setting and makes it easier to follow. Dickens goes into a lot of detail as far as setting is concerned this creates a cinematic picture for the reader; this helps to create mystery and suspense in the readers mind.

Dickens uses such literary devices as symbolic topography and sensory appeal when describing setting. One of the most effective ways which he uses symbolic topography is in the way he describes the valley, he portrays the valley very negatively by calling it, “the great dungeon,” and, “an unnatural valley. ” Dickens uses a lot of sensory appeal and imagery to build a picture for the reader of the setting and to create the impression that it is not a nice place.

When I think of the phrase, “Black Tunnel” I think that it may symbolise hell, or the road to hell, this makes sense as Dickens is trying to portray the railways negatively and this makes them seem demonic. “Gloomy red light” also has connotations of death, and hell, this is good use of colour imagery. Dickens appeals to our senses through setting, he describes it in ways like, “wet stone walls,” and, ” jagged stone. ” This appeals to our sense of touch. Dickens also incorporates our sense of smell and perhaps our sense of taste, it says, deadly smell,” and, “damp air. ”

The description of, “little sunlight,” appeals to our sight. Dickens continuously uses sensory appeal throughout the story; I think that this has a positive effect on the story as it helps the reader to imagine what the place is like more vividly. Dickens tries to keep the reader detached from the signal man by not naming him the whole way through the story, I think that this creates a lot of mystery about his character and it also helps to make the character universal.

Another thing, which makes the signal man a mysterious character, is the way that he was well educated and smart but e still got stuck in a “dead end” job. The reader is forced to wonder why and how he ended up being in such a job. Early on in the story I found that the way the signal man behaved towards the narrator creates mystery and suspense, towards the beginning the signal man seemed to be obsessed with the narrator. The way that dickens introduces the spectre creates mystery and intrigue as you don’t know whether its just the signal man’s imagination, or if its actually a real ghost or maybe even a real person.

Dickens holds the suspense well, as he only describes the spectre very vaguely. This keeps the reader interested and intrigued by the fact they know very little about the spectre. I found that the signal man, the spectre and even the narrator, were very mysterious in some points throughout the story. Dickens has made it hard for the reader to establish who is the main mysterious character. The next story, “The withered arm,” also includes a type of spectre, but the story is an awful lot different from the, “the signal man.

The two spectres from the two stories are actually a lot different. The ghost in the withered arm is described much more vividly than the one in, “the signal man. ” This story was wrote by Thomas Hardy, and is set in Wessex, England back in the early 1800’s. In this story Hardy writes about community life in a very rural setting. This story is full of hatred, jealousy, regret and vanity; this makes it a very interesting story. The title, “the withered arm,” ha connotations of death, evil and sickness.

This gives you the initial impression of the story; at the start of the story it seems very pleasant and changes your first impression completely. As you read on, you realise that the first impression was correct. Thomas Hardy wrote a lot about social injustice, rural life and explored male – female relationships. This short story seems to incorporate all of these. Hardy also didn’t believe in god; so therefore may have believed in the supernatural, and witchcraft. Another thing which he disagreed with greatly was the class system, I found this quite odd as Hardy was upper class

This story is set over a very long period of time; it is less intense than, “The signal man,” and I would prefer it to be slightly more concentrated and slightly shorter to read. I liked the fact that you could read the whole of, “The signal man,” without getting bored or restless. I don’t think that you could do that with, “The withered arm,” as its just too long. Although this gives Hardy the chance to describe things in a lot more detail. I think that the chapters in this story are quite effective as they give the story a, “soap opera,” effect. Hardy has set this in the 1800’s in the countryside.

This story shows the qualities of rural communities, and gives you an insight to life in the country. I found that this story was a lot harder to follow than the, “The signal man,” as the storyline seemed to be very complex. This story captures many of Hardy’s preoccupations like, love, social classes, injustice, rural communities and witchcraft. I think that this story has a very rustic quality to it. The opening to, “the withered arm,” is quite good as it plays with your mind by changing your impression of the story a few times with the title and the first paragraph.

There is also a lot of direct speech, this helps to incorporate the reader; also the fact that there is country dialect used tells the reader that the story is set in a typical rural country village. There is a lot of mystery and intrigue at the start, why are the people talking looking at Rhoda? Before you find out that Rhoda was once with farmer lodge hardy creates suspense by saying things like, “He ha’nt spoke to Rhoda brook for years. ” Throughout the story the character of Rhoda is very mysterious. There are implications that she may be a witch and also the negative descriptions seem to back this up.

Hardy uses a lot of symbolic topography when describing Rhoda this is very effective as the reader bases their views mostly on the descriptions. Unlike, ” The signal man,” there are numerous different settings in this story. Hardy uses a lot of imagery, pathetic phalecy and uses cinematic detail in the descriptions of setting. At the start of the story Rhoda and Gertrude seem totally different but then they seem to become more and more alike. The fact that they both become extremely obsessive over things and the fact that they both love farmer lodge make them seem very alike.

Hardy reverses the readers views on Rhoda and Gertrude throughout the story; you first feel sorry for Rhoda then she curses Gertrude so you don’t then at the end you feel sorry for her again. Even though farmer lodge is an important character to the story he is not mentioned very often. The boy is the whole link that ties the whole story together; he stares at his mother and father, and Rhoda first meets her when she comes to give him shoes. The boy is also a very mysterious character in the story, Hardy emphasises this by not naming the boy this keeps the reader unattached and intrigued.

The line, “the boy again promised, inattentively this time, his mother not observing that he was cutting a notch with his pocket knife in the beech backed chair,” gives you the impression that the boy may be evil or demonic. But you are still unsure about his character. The story seems to have a delayed climax; we never find out what or whom Gertrude saw in the egg, this creates mystery and suspense. It is suggested that Rhoda is a witch when she and Gertrude go to see Conjurer Trendle; how did she know about him?

Does she believe in magic? I found that the fact that conjurer Trendle used an egg to see what happened was quite weird, although I think that it ties in well with the rural country setting. I found the ending to be very shocking, and quick. The fact that Gertrude died, it says, “she never made it home alive,” The boy died and then the father,” farmer lodge,” dies makes the story end in a sad shocking way. I think that hardy ends this story too quickly although I think that the way that it leaves you uninformed about a few things.

It never actually tells you what the incubus was, was the ghost a metaphor for how Gertrude was crushing Rhoda’s life. The fact that the boy and Gertrude died was very shocking, as it all seemed to happen very suddenly. In essence, I found that both stories have good qualities but I think that, “The signal man,” was slightly more interesting than, “The Withered Arm. ” I personally found that, “the signal man,” was better as it was kept short and seemed a lot more intense. On the other hand though, “the withered arm,” was good as everything was described in extreme detail and it include different settings.

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