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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: English
  • Document length: 1631 words

“The Signalman”

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"The Signalman" In the following essay I will discuss how Dickens "The Signalman" by exploring the settings and the characters. The novel was written by Charles Dickens in the 19th century. It is set in a deep cutting adjacent to a tunnel with a railway running through. I think that the over riding feature throughout the essay is the suspense that is created. So in this essay I will mostly focus on how that is built up. Suspense is created through supernatural, horror and ambiguity. A good suspense story should have all of these. I will explore these qualities which make up a good suspense story. The story opens with the quote "Halloa! Below there" This short, but effective line becomes very decisive as the story unfolds. We don't know who's speaking and so creates tension already. The man he is shouting to below looks round to face the tunnel "Looked down the line". Any normal person would look upwards in response to this. Again Dickens is creating the unexplainable which builds up the tension and suspense. At this time we don't know who either of the men is. We know it is a ghost story so which one if any is the ghost.


The signalman is evidently going to be an important character once they get talking and his actions are very weird to start off with; He stands intently in the railway with his hand on his chin, not moving a muscle until they are face to face "Before he stirred I was near enough to have touched him". Also when they do meet he makes no attempt to start the conversation, instead he looks at the red light "Look towards the red light" He seems very mysterious and unpredictable. As they begin to talk again the man becomes slightly hostile and the narrator speculates that he might be a ghost "This was a spirit". This is a very tense point in the novel because the ghost's identity may have already been revealed, but the signalman begins to show fear and asks if they have met before. It makes you think, why should the signalman show any fear? After their conversation the man leaves and the signalman tells him that on his return journey not call out those words. "Halloa! Below there". It builds tension over what these words really mean to the signalman and why he is scared of them.


Maybe too dismissive and this could get him into trouble, but he doesn't seem like he is a victim. The signalman has this role. In the end it is the gentleman's fault that the signalman dies because if he hadn't called down to him in the first place, the signalman would have looked up as the train came down the tunnel. "Below there, look out". The first words of the story are the most decisive words of the story. Could it have been fate? And no matter what had happened between the start of the story and his death, it couldn't have been prevented. "The words which I myself - not he - had attached". He obviously feels responsible for his death and you feel that if he hadn't associated himself with the man none of this would have happened. This is quite a mysterious and even scary thought. It is evident that Dickens creates a lot of suspense throughout the story with the opening words and as he descends the cutting, looking at the signalman whose actions is very weird. Suspense is also created as the signalman tells the gentleman of the weird happenings recently. The settings are very mysterious and even prone to something like this happening. Dickens´ ability to bring mystery, unexplainable, and first person narrative add up to make suspense in the story. By Chris Tannorella

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