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Comparative Essay between "The Signalman" and "The Pit and the Pendulum"

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Camilla Way 10:L - Comparative Essay between "The Signalman" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" English GCSE Coursework (Miss Rees) Compare and contrast "The Signalman" and "The Pit and the Pendulum", concentrating upon how the writers attempt to create suspense. This piece shall be examining two contemporary horror tales and comparing the ways in which both inflict horror and suspense upon the reader. The first story, "The Signalman", was written during the Georgian - Victorian era, between 1812 and 1879. Charles Dickens was a well-known author, he also wrote many best-selling novels. An American author, Edgar Allan Poe, however, composed the second story. The story was named "The Pit and the Pendulum", and was finished in 1842 before the American Civil war. The Signalman: The opening of the story held my attention, mainly because of the subtle language and effective repetition used by Dickens. For example, at the beginning, when the narrator cried out "Halloa", Dickens shrewdly highlighted that that word was important in the piece. Dickens impressed my mind with tension by clever use of language. For example, he described the embankment of the rail track as a "deep trench". This sets a very claustrophobic impression of the place upon the reader, and also the word "trench" reminded me of a grave, so this is one of the many words which implies the supernatural in the story. More suspense is created in the opening of the story as the Signalman looked down the line when called, rather than looking up, at the top of the embankment where the narrator was. This grips the reader who is puzzled even more by what is happening, and it is as if Dickens wants us to look at the 'depths' of things rather than what is 'obvious'. Another part of the story that builds suspense is when the train passes through the tunnel. This gave me an indication of how good the rest of the story was going to be when I read it. ...read more.


E.g. "O, how did this happen, how did this happen? Now the narrator is worried, his sympathetic nature allows him to resort to repetition. This points out to the reader that the narrator was genuinely concerned for the Signalman and believed that he had been haunted. This brings the story to some sort of crescendo because something macabre has actually happened, based on what a man, now dead, had seen. The ambience gets even more chilling when the narrator discovers how the Signalman died. The spectre foretold the Signalman's own death, but its even further tension-packed when you realise that the spectre actually led the Signalman to his own death. This completes the ghoulishness of the tale as the reader seems to realise that the spectre was driving the Signalman towards insanity, and when he was completely insane the Signalman's possession by the spectre would lead to his own death by someone trying to warn him of his death. This is the ironic twist that makes the tale so memorable. The variety of language that Dickens selected, together with the supernatural events and the apprehensive style of the story produces a gripping mystery that is full of paradox. The Pit and the Pendulum: This story is written about a man sentenced to death during the Spanish Inquisition, a 'holy war' between Protestants and Catholics. In this study I shall be examining how factors of horror and suspense influence the readers and can draw them into the deep "pit" of Poe's imagination. One of the first things I observed was that Poe deliberately mentions the word "death" twice in the first paragraph, to make sure the reader is disturbed by the horror of the thought. Then, to emphasise that this punishment of death was clear to the man, Poe mentions hallucinations that the prisoner had, such as "voices seemed merged into one dreamy indeterminate hum". ...read more.


We also manage to see exactly how disgusting and sick minded the narrator's torturers were. So the readers are living through the narrator's experiences in a vivid way. Again, this is where more revulsion is experienced. In "The Pit and the Pendulum", Poe creates more trepidation through the atmosphere he introduces, and also more dread and uncertainty than Dickens. This is unique, as both these descriptions were valid right from the beginning, to claim the reader's interest. For example, the story even started with the dire sentence: "I was sick - sick unto death with that long agony". This kind of language influences frightfully drastic thoughts of terror, and the reader is discreetly drawn into this, as one is led to investigate the reasons for the narrator's discomfort. Even though the amount of suspense in "The Pit and the Pendulum" isn't as good as that in "The Signalman", the way that Poe did it is still highly skilled. The main source of suspense in the story, is achieved when Poe starts using his imagination to lead the reader on, so we, as readers, are given hope, but each hope is dashed. This pattern is repeated throughout the story, and Poe's aim of using this tactic is fulfilled - by creating thorough abhorrence. Where tension is concerned, "The Signalman" is a little more intense than "The Pit and the Pendulum" for various reasons. For example, most of the uncertainty in "The Signalman" is built by the clever use of circumstance and events in the story. Dickens built most of the suspense throughout the tale, by writing in ideas, which make his readers realise the suspense for themselves. Thus, Dickens appealed to the readers' intellects, keeping them spellbound. While both authors' style is different, both are entertaining and Dickens' descriptive detail contrasts with Poe's more morbid depth of imagination. Camilla Way 10:L - Comparative Essay between "The Signalman" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" - English GCSE Coursework ...read more.

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