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Compare and contrast Charles Dickens' "The Signalman" and Catherine Storrs' "Crossing Over" and say which story you think is the most successful ghost story.

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Introduction

Compare and contrast Charles Dickens' "The Signalman" and Catherine Storrs' "Crossing Over" and say which story you think is the most successful ghost story. Charles Dickens wrote "The Signalman" in the 1860s, at a time when ghost stories, the supernatural and the gothic were very popular with the Victorians. Many short stories during this period were written in this genre and this interest was probably inspired by the "Penny Dreadfuls" magazine, which contained many short gothic stories, for example Bram Stokers' "Dracula" and Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein." Many of Dickens' stories contained complex plots, intrigue and suspense. "The Signalman" is a story involving a railway signalman and a narrator. Ghosts appear at several moments to warn the signalman of impending danger. The setting for "The Signalman", a railway line and railway tunnel, is also significant because the story was written in the steam age, when railways, a relatively new invention, were simultaneously considered to be a popular yet dangerous and mysterious addition to people's lives. By contrast, "Crossing Over" was written in the second half of the 20th century and has a much more modern, urban feel to it. The audience that Catherine Storr was writing for would have been therefore more interested in extra sensory perception and the workings of the mind than ghouls and spectres. This idea of existing in different dimensions and the phenomenon of extra sensory perception is a topic of great interest to modern readers, as this is shown in the production of the recent film "The Sixth Sense." ...read more.

Middle

We learn that the signalman is intelligent, well-educated, but squandered his opportunities earlier in his life. He is, however, not resentful of his life and is happy with his job as a signalman. This type of detailed descriptive information about the signalman helps to build up a clear, picture to the reader about his character and therefore the reader can understand him better as the story progresses. The character of the signalman is also intriguing to the reader and adds to the sense of mystery created by the unusual setting, drawing the reader into the story. The narrator also tells us that the signalman is "remarkably exact and vigilant, conscientious and wants to do a good job." However, the reader learns that a reaccurring ghost troubles the signalman, which eventually builds up to his death. He demands that the "Lord help me! A poor signalman on this solitary station!" to show how distressed he has become by the ghost. Dickens delays the revelation of why the signalman is troubled until several pages into the story to heighten the tension and create suspense. Although plenty of information is given about the character of the signalman, the character of the narrator is hardly described or mentioned in the book, even though he is the other major character. This, although used to create mystery, is applied to make the reader focus on the main character of the signalman throughout the story. Despite the significant lack of description, the narrator is believable and like the character of the signalman, makes the reader become drawn into the story. ...read more.

Conclusion

The character of the narrator is much more involved in "The Signalman" than in "Crossing Over" and therefore in my opinion, "The Signalman" has the most effective narration of the two. The ending of an effective ghost story has the potential to create fear and mystery and it is usually the place in the story where the ghost is revealed. The ending to "Crossing Over" is dramatic, as the identity of the ghost is suddenly revealed to the reader in the last line. This delayed revelation of the identity of the ghost creates suspense. The ending to "The Signalman" is more conventional because the identity of the ghost is revealed over the last few pages. However, what happens to the signalman is shocking and powerful, although somewhat predictable because of the repeated clues. The similarity in the endings between the two stories is that the main character is killed or becomes a ghost. This is a theme common to many successful ghost stories, regardless of the time in which they were written. Because of the period in which it was written and the audience it was written for, "The Signalman" may not appeal to a modern audience, because of its complex plot and mysterious character. Because I am also writing from a modern perspective, I am therefore more likely to prefer "Crossing Over" to "The Signalman." In my opinion, "Crossing Over" is the most successful ghost story because it contains a believable setting and credible character, a surprising and uneasy ending and it is carefully structured and written economically, allowing the reader to become personally involved and drawn into the story. Christopher Baker-Brian ...read more.

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