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Compare the ways that Dickens builds tension in The Signalman and The Black Veil.

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Compare the ways that Dickens builds tension in The Signalman and The Black Veil Dickens main aim in these two stories is to create and maintain tension in order to entertain his reader. The techniques are very detailed when setting the scene, look at are the use of mood words when setting the scene, his depiction of mysterious characters, his choice of narrative style and his structure of both the stories. The Signalman is a gothic short story where a railway signalman is haunted to a point where he is certain that a calamity will happen. Little does he know that this calamity is his death. The Black Veil is a mystery story about a young doctor who gets a mysterious case from an equally mysterious woman. When he attends the house of the woman he finds that she has gone mad and is asking him to bring back to life he recently hung son. The Signalman is a very vivid story in which Dickens uses the senses in describing the setting very effectively. The fact that it is set in a railway cutting at the time would have immediately meant danger and had a sinister effect in the Victorian times as many people did not accept the new technology and thought that steam trains were man unnecessarily tampering with nature which could only lead to trouble. The way that the cutting is described as being 'made through a clammy stone that became oozier and wetter as I went down' is a very clear tactile and thermal image which involves the reader, and so suspense is built. ...read more.


As we can see Dickens uses lots of similar ways to create tension in the settings of these two stories with lots of contrast, tactile, thermal and visual images to play on the senses of the reader. Both stories also contain isolated and eccentric characters that are left nameless to add further to the effect. Dickens creates a dark aura around the central characters in both the stories. If we look at The Signalman we can see that both characters thought the other could possibly have been a supernatural being when they first meet. For example the narrator says 'the monstrous thought came into my head, as I perused the fixed eyes of the saturnine face, that this was a spirit' and the signalman himself 'directed a most curious look towards the red light near the tunnel's mouth, and looked all about it, as if something were missing from it, and then looked at me' the signalman also says ' "I took you for someone else yesterday evening" ' this is a hint to the fact that the signalman suspects the narrator of being a spirit. The character of the signalman in the story is very important as he is seen to be a credible man and that makes the story more tense due to the fact that it makes the story seem less far-fetched to the reader. The signalman is described as 'a dark sallow man, with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows' this description helps to build tension as it adds to the sinister effect which has already been created through the use of mood words. ...read more.


The structure in the two stories is similar in that in both Dickens eases tension at the end in order to enhance the effect of the final climax. In The Signalman the narrator comments that he will have a short walk before he visits the signalman when he looks the railway line only to find that the signalman has been cut down by a train. This brief 'rest' period beforehand increases the sense of shock when one finds out that the signalman is dead. In The Black Veil the rest period occurs during the time that the doctor is making his way towards the house. At the end of the story where the doctor opens the curtains and 'admitted the full light of day' shows firstly that the body itself has been revealed to the doctor's eyes and secondly that he will shed light onto the situation and it will all become clear to the reader what has been going on. The final effect of this story is very moral implying that if you are compassionate and caring for others less fortunate than yourself you will be rewarded. The doctor was rewarded for his kindness to the woman by achieving fame and fortune. To conclude Dickens similar techniques in both stories for building tension. The most effective of which I think is the way he describes settings so vividly and strikingly. In my opinion The Signalman is a better story as I find the end of The Black Veil somewhat anti-climactic whereas the ending in The Signalman I find makes me think more about the story I have just read. Andrew Morrison Leconfield ...read more.

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