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Describe how dickens creates mystery and suspense in his short story the signalman

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The theme of the story may have been influenced by Dickens's own involvement in the Staple Hurst rail crash on the 9th of June 1865. While passing over a viaduct in Kent, the train on which he was traveling jumped a gap in the line, causing the central and rear carriages to fall onto the riverbed below. Dickens was in the only first-class carriage to survive. His short story was then published as part of the "Mugby Junction" collection in the 1866 Christmas edition of 'All the Year Round' a weekly literary magazine founded and owned by Dickens. Trains had not been around for a long time when Dickens wrote the short story therefore they were a generally scary thing; The title of the story is simple yet makes us wonder into what could happen, as the public trains were fairly new, not many people knew what a Signalman was or his job, therefore the title sparks immediate interest. Dickens' tone of voice is simple yet low, keeping the atmosphere dark throughout the story. He doesn't simplify actions too much, he includes little details in smaller descriptions to ensure that the reader has taken in important or relevant information to make you think about things, for example..."he touched me on the arm with his forefinger twice or thrice, giving a ghastly nod each time..." ...read more.


The rapid atmosphere is then calmed again with words like skimmed and landscape as the train finally passes. Dickens describes the tunnel and surrounding area in greater detail when the narrator reaches this point. His words are much darker now, for example heavy, solitary, dismal, jagged, excluded, dungeon, gloomy, black, barbarous, depressing, forbidding and deadly. All these examples help to change the atmosphere to a dark and cold setting. The Signalman's attitude is from the start mysterious and confusing, he does not answer back to the narrator's call, only points to a place where the narrator can reach him. When face to face, both men ironically think of each other as the spectre, but both relax when they confirm that neither are spirits. The Signalman's attitude is dark and solemn towards the narrator, talking in a low voice and observing him with a kind of dread, this unsettles the narrator mildly but they soon learn not to fear each other. The Signalman tells the narrator that he thinks he has seen him before at the red danger light; this is confusing to both the narrator and the readers, adding to the air of mystery and adding to the important information that needs to be stored for later on. ...read more.


The Signalman tells the narrator that he believes he is seeing spectres, this is very important to the story and this point gets the story going into full flow. There are three sightings in all, two of which are followed by an accident of some sort which is exciting to the reader and also frightening as death is introduced to the story, adding to the mysterious, scary atmosphere. The story's ending brings all our questions and gathered information to an end. The narrator discovers that the Signalman has been cut down by a train and is horrified to see the various men gathered at the scene making the same movements and actions as the Signalman had told him, he is also frightened that his own words were included in the Signalman's death, used by the driver of the train to warn the Signalman. In my opinion this ending is fantastic as we discover that the ghost where not just ghosts, but images of the Signalman's own death. The ending is abrupt and unexpected which leaves the atmosphere dark and mysterious even when finished reading. I enjoyed the story thoroughly and would proudly call it a favourite as it takes the reader by surprise and uses brilliant techniques such as variation and change of verbs and the shock factor to keep the atmosphere and tension alive. ...read more.

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