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Both Stories examine elements of the unknown. How do the authors create tension and how do they reflect the beliefs and superstitions of their time?

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Both Stories examine elements of the unknown. How do the authors create tension and how do they reflect the beliefs and superstitions of their time? Comparing 'The Signalman' by Charles Dickens and 'The Darkness Out There' by Penelope Lively is an ideal way of looking at two authors from different times and backgrounds. Dickens, writing in the nineteenth century, would have had a very different audience to write for from Lively, writing in the twentieth century. Therefore, each author uses different techniques to create tension in the two pieces. During the nineteenth century there was a strong belief in ghosts and the spiritual world; telling ghost stories around the fireplace is often seen as a typical form of Victorian entertainment. Dickens draws on this tradition to create a short story that would have strongly appealed to readers of that time. Lively, however, is not writing for an audience that would enjoy a ghost story as much, therefore 'The Darkness Out There,' is not blatently a ghost story. To capture her readers' interests she instead uses the war and the attitudes to the Germans as a focus of concern. As Dickens lived in a time when the Queen was married to a man of German origin, war with Germany was very unlikely. This meant he had to use an alternate approach to draw the audience into the story. ...read more.


Lively does this deliberately and this can be seen when she, after discussing newspaper articles about rapists and armed attackers, writes, "He rose from the plough beyond the hedge." This is the first mention of Kerry and the short sentence, with no mention who "he" is, makes his entrance shocking to the reader, especially as Lively has mentioned the stories in the papers. Dickens uses his characters in a completely different way from Lively yet still utilises them to investigate the unknown. Lively lets the reader get to know the characters and this pulls their attention into the story, thus making the twist at the end of the plot seem all the more shocking. However, Dickens slowly builds up the tension by not naming his characters at all and by the end of the text the reader still does not know anything about the narrator and hardly anything about the signalman. This distances the reader and the reader not being able to predict what the signalman is going to say next causes some of the tension in the story. An example of this unpredictability is when the characters are talking and the signalman keeps looking at the bell: "He twice broke off with a fallen colour, turned his face towards the little bell when it did NOT ring ... and looked out towards the red light." ...read more.


"One would have thought," and, "He turned himself about." Also Dickens uses long and very descriptive sentences. This creates tension because the reader gets a very clear picture what the setting is like. In 'The Darkness Out There,' however, the style is very different. Lively uses very informal, language and it is as if the story is being told directly to you. This impression is also given by the conversational, textured paragraphs and sentences, such as; "With the light suddenly shutting off the bare, wide sky of the field. Packer's End." This makes the reader feel closer to the characters and their predicament therefore the tension and shock at the end is greater. In summary, both Dickens and Lively create tension through their use of plot, characters, style and setting. The eerie "Packers End" matches the claustrophobia enhancing setting of 'The Signalman'. Dickens' anonymous characters of the narrator and the signalman keep the readers on edge in 'The Signalman,' whereas Sandra's naivety, Kerry's suspicious nature and Mrs Rutter's seeming innocence then the abrupt exposure of true character build up tension and surprise in 'The Darkness Out There.' Dickens' compacted plot works well to hold the reader's attention and the build up to Lively's final climax keeps her audience hooked to the end. On the whole both authors use events of their time well to create suspense. I feel that although Dickens appears to do this more effectively, the seeming normality yet the sense of unease about 'The Darkness Out There' creates just as much tension. ...read more.

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