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Compare the two short stories, 'The Signalman' by Dickens and 'The Withered Arm by Hardy.

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Introduction

Compare the two short stories, 'The Signalman' by Dickens and 'The Withered Arm by Hardy. 'The Signalman' and 'The Withered Arm', are two short stories showing supernatural events. Authors, Dickens, and Hardy intrigue readers by using certain techniques. These techniques add suspense and mystery to the story, which makes the reader, want to read further on. The openings in both narratives begin with a short dialogue. The dialogue in 'The Signalman' begins with the narrator talking to the Signalman: "Halloa! Below there!" This throws the readers into action and engages them into the story. It introduces them to the characters. The setting of the place is one of an eerie atmosphere. It hints that something unnatural and ominous will occur. The setting is described as a dreary and hostile place. It creates an image of a dangerous and "barbarous place". The opening of 'The Signalman leaves the readers engrossed in the story by creating a mysterious plot. In the opening, we are introduced to the two characters. The characters remain nameless which ties the reader into the plot and therefore makes the reader thrilled, wanting to find out about the identities of the characters. From the outset of the story, Dickens creates a sense of mystery that startles readers. The strange behaviour of the Signalman creates tension and raises mysterious questions such as, why is he behaving in an unusual way? The opening of 'The Withered Arm, is written in such a way to engage the reader from the beginning of the story. Like 'The Signalman', 'The Withered Arm' aims to throw the reader into action by using dialogue. Thomas Hardy uses dialogue between employees who are working on the dairy farm. In this conversation, we also learn about the main characters before they are involved in the plot; "Tis hard for she". During the introduction to the story, there is also a brief description of the setting. ...read more.

Middle

The characters in 'The Signalman' are left unidentified. The two main characters are the signalman and the narrator. The signalman's role in the story is to signal when trains come through the tunnel and make sure the railway tracks are safe. His role suggests he is responsible. He has been given this job because he is "one of the safest men to employ". Throughout the story, the signalman is referred to by his profession. This is where most of his life has gone by. He is a lonely man. We know from the story that the signalman was a student of natural philosophy and attended lectures. He was a well-educated person but "went off the rails". By misusing his opportunities, he is now paying for his past. The signalman believes in the supernatural and is frightened about an event that happened in the past. He seems very cautious and paranoid about something. E.g., He is always looking at the red light. He seems very worried as he always keeps a lookout on trains and gets very irritated by the narrator speaking to him. His behaviour is strange and peculiar; he asks why the narrator said "Halloa! Below there!" The actions of the narrator connect to his past and the supernatural visions of the ghost warning him about danger. The narrator is however, a completely different character. He is an educated man. The narrator does not believe in the supernatural and argues his case by explaining the existence of the supernatural through logical reasoning. He thinks the signalman is strange and unusual; "...there was something in the man that daunted me". He feels uncomfortable and quite suspicious of his behaviour. He is ill at ease and judges the signalman before even knowing him properly. The narrator disagrees with the signalman about the existence of the supernatural. He concludes very quickly thinking his views are right; "I showed him how that figure must be a deception of his sense of sight." ...read more.

Conclusion

Friendship is shown between Gertrude and Rhoda. Their friendship is based on deceit and there is always an element of jealousy, Rhoda being envious of Gertrude. At first Gertrude seems to trust Rhoda. Rhoda offers her support to Gertrude and becomes close to her. However, she inflicts pain on Gertrude. When she finds who the 'enemy' is, she refers Rhoda to 'Satan'. However, Gertrude also inflicts pain on Rhoda, by using her son's blood as a remedy to cur her arm. At the end of the story, she becomes the 'enemy' as she uses her son's death. This shows a cycle of betrayal and shows irony as Gertrude refers to Rhoda as her enemy but then also becomes an enemy of Rhoda. The endings of both stories are also very similar. They both have a 'twist in the tale'. In 'The Signalman', there is a sudden death of the signalman, which is foretold by the ghost. Similarly in 'The Withered Arm', there is the execution of Rhoda's son. Both these events are unpredictable because they occur but readers are not warned about them. The ending in 'The Signalman' shows the narrator to claim that the signalman's death is a "coincidence". This shows that readers are expected to make a decision for themselves whether they believe in the existence of the supernatural. Whereas in 'The Withered Arm', the death of Gertrude shows that, she is killed by a remedy and shows that it is an unexplained event. Both of these events are unexplained which shows that they are similar to each other and the question of supernatural powers arises. Readers are left to make up their own mind about whether they want to believe in the existence of the supernatural or whether they choose not to. These stories are both different. 'The Signalman' is a ghost story and the atmosphere and the ghost figures reveal this. This tells readers instantly that supernatural events are likely to occur. However, 'The Withered Arm', is set in a calm atmosphere so readers do not expect mysterious events to occur. Hema Pindolia ...read more.

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