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Comparison of pre-twentieth and twentieth century prose - "the Signalman" and "the darkness out there".

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Wide reading assessment Comparison of pre-twentieth and twentieth century prose The two stories, "the Signalman" and "the darkness out there" are two short stories which are similar in some ways and different in others. They are similar in that they are both about a horrific incident involving death and have unexpected endings but the authors' intentions and background also create great differences between the two stories. Although both the authors' build up suspense and tension in their stories they do it in different ways. The Victorians around the time of Dickens (the author of "the Signalman") were fascinated by the ghost/supernatural stories following the success of the "Gothic" novels like Dracula and Frankenstein. Dickens wrote "The Signalman" in a style which suited that audience. Penelope Lively on the other hand wrote a psychological story exploring how people's behaviour is affected by their past. This is more appropriate for the late twentieth century audience In "the Darkness out there", Penelope Lively wrote the story in such a way that it built the tension up slowly over time. Following her usual style of making the main characters seems to be normal, but turning out to be anything but normal (in the case of Mrs Rutter). Mrs Rutter is described as a "creamy", "cottage loaf of a woman" which sounds very normal but Lively hints that all is not as it seems in the description of her eyes. ...read more.


When Kerry leaves the house, the tension keeps mounting as he says, "I'm not going near that old bitch again" showing the extent of his anger. The tension in this part of the story is also built up through the irony of some of the things Mrs Rutter says, like: "I've got sympathy with young people" when she show through the telling of her story that she didn't have sympathy of the young German who she could have saved. At the end of the story, Lively focuses all the tension towards trying to make a point; that the "darkness out there" is not really referring to a physical evil out there, in Packer's wood, but the "inescapable darkness" "in your head forever". Her views on judging people by what they look like change as she sees Kerry in a new light as "his anger eclipsed his acne, the patches of grease on his jeans, his lardy midriff". The ending is kept surprising throughout the story through Sandra's fear of physical things and the tension is not lost at the edge of the story as the reader leaves the story thinking about the things written in it. The signalman written by Charles Dickens also builds up tension in the story. In the setting point of view Dickens works a lot more on creating a creepy setting, rather like the way Lively describes Packer's end. ...read more.


The almost panicked way in which the signalman tells the story is what adds tension. The repetitive language and behaviour of the ghost adds more tension. The constant use of the line "Halloa! Below there!" alerts the reader and the signalman to what he thinks is supernatural activity. Starting the story with that line as well brings the reader straight into the story, adding instant tension and suspense. The "darkness out there" lively adds tension slowly making the story seem normal to start off with. The surprising ending of the Signalman's death leaves the reader in the suspense. The ending is left open, as Dickens does not seem to guide the reader towards any particular conclusion. Dickens intention is that the reader makes up there own mind up. The "darkness out there" has a surprising ending too, but at the end of that, Lively tries to point you towards the conclusion of the darkness being inside people. Both these stories add tension, both authors using different techniques to create tension and suspense. The signalman is a ghost story full with tension throughout which leaves the ending open to allow the readers to make up their own mind. The darkness out there on the other hand is a psychological thinking story, which built tension up slowly which pushed the reader towards a certain point of view. Out of the two I preferred the signalman because although the story itself is old, it is still relevant to me now and the supernatural aspect of the story appeals to me more the psychology. ...read more.

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