• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Describe the ways Dickens creates mystery and suspense in 'The Signalman'.

Extracts from this document...


Describe the ways Dickens creates mystery and suspense in 'The Signalman' 'The Signalman' by Charles Dickens, also known as 'No1 Branchline', is part of the collection of short railway stories that are included in 'Mugby Junctions', published in 1866. These stories appear to have been written post the tragic Staplehurst, Kent train crash, in which Dickens was involved, but escaped unhurt. Following the accident, Dickens suffered from what we would call today, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This may have contributed to the reflective and supernatural nature of 'The Signalman'. The story of 'The Signalman' is a mysterious tale about a character that stumbles upon an isolated train cutting and there meets the signalman in charge. As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that there is something troubling the signalman~ he believes he is witnessing the presence of a spectre. Extraordinarily the spectre only appears before an accident and its presence has the aura of impending doom. A curious twist at the end of the story leaves the reader still trying to fully assess Dickens' motive and rationale for this composition. 'The Signalman' opens with direct speech~ "Halloa! Below there!" This ambiguous start raises many questions, such as, who is speaking; who is being spoken to; what is below? Dickens is building the mysterious atmosphere even at this early stage in the story. The use of minor sentences creates a sense of urgency; the exclamation marks also contribute. Together they work to convey panic. This short but effective line becomes very decisive as the story unfolds. We receive a clearer picture of the setting by the next paragraph. There is a prominent lexical set of the railways, "box", "flag", "cutting", "line" that all suggest at this point that Dickens sets the story on or near a railway line. Questions are raised about the recipient's identity~ is he the signalman? Following the first line, he looks around to face the tunnel~ "looked down the line". ...read more.


The narrator watches the signalman demonstrate with "utmost passion and vehemence" that insinuates the phrase "for God's sake clear the way!" to his mind. This is his personal conclusion. Even more disconcertingly, the spectre cries in a hoarse voice "Halloa! Below there!" Amazingly, this is an exact imitation of the narrator's first words in the story. The audience is now aware as to the signalman's demeanour in the origin. Unmistakeably, this is immensely disturbing for the audience and the narrator. Dickens continues the conventional, ghostly atmosphere when the signalman parts details of the accident, which he believes the spectre warned him about~ " Within six hours of the appearance, the memorable accident on this line happened...the dead and wounded were brought through the tunnel over the spot where the figure stood", giving an uncomfortable read. Dickens constructs the idea that this has traumatised the signalman; firstly he witnessed the accident, which obviously shocked him, and he also gives details that suggest his state of mind is fragile. His eyes are "hollow" metaphorically showing he is probably not sleeping due to pressure and he lays his arm on the narrator's, showing he needs comfort. The next appearance of the spectre is seen in the identical position, this time demonstrating an "action of mourning", which has connotations of death and sinister purposes, linking with the "long lamenting wail" that is audible. Again, the signalman's fears are justified as the day, post to the appearance, a young woman "died instantaneously in the compartment" of a passing train (this strongly hints at murder). By now the audience will associate the spectre with death and who's death it will contribute to next. In addition "the spectre came back a week ago. Ever since it has been there now and again in fits and starts." At the time he speaks, no death has yet occurred so this distresses him considerably. ...read more.


Dickens conveys the narrator's bewilderment and shock by the use of repetition~ "how did this happen? How did this happen?" The use of the interjection proves his shock to the audience. The audience is informed that the signalman was "cut down by an engine". This is extraordinary since the signalman's attributes~ "remarkably vigilant" and "no man in England knew his work better". Dickens implies that the signalman was not the type of person to die from such an accident~ he was too careful. Inquiry ascends as to how he died. The train driver who witnessed the accident reveals even more perhaps coincidental and enigmatic circumstances. He, who wore similar attire to the spectre~ "he wore a rough, dark dress" and he steps "back to his former place at the tunnel", analogous to the spectre. In addition, the words uttered by the train driver are "..For God's sake clear the way!", whom also "waved this arm to the very last". Dickens profoundly enforces the idea into the audience's mind that these words and actions contributed to the signalman's death. In this one phrase, (of which Dickens emphasises was never spoken by the signalman; it was the words which the narrator had "attached...to the gesticulation he had imitated"). The narrator, the signalman and the train driver are linked in some ominous and maybe sinister way. In the last paragraph, Dickens encourages his readers, through the narrator, to assess the motive and rationale of the anecdote. He deliberately manifests ambiguity through the signalman's death and never gives its cause. This amplifies the situation and links in with the fact that the story was originally intended to be read aloud and discussed. It is evident that Dickens constitutes suspense throughout the story, beginning with the decisive opening words, the vivid description of the cutting and the signalman. The conventional qualities of the story are unmistakeable~ the dark, eerie atmosphere and the distinct sense of the supernatural help to amplify the enigma. Dickens' ability to sustain mystery, suspense and ambiguity provide thrilling reading material By Ruth Davies ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE The Signalman section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE The Signalman essays

  1. Compare the ways in which Charles Dickens and H.G Wells convey an air of ...

    In "The Signalman", ambiguity is used to thicken the plot and build the reader's attention to a particular event: "When you have found it, don't call out! And when you are at the top, don't call out...What made you cry 'Halloa!

  2. The Signalman has an unsuspected ending. Explore the way in which the writer builds ...

    The character of the signalman is an interesting, distinctive and disturbing one due to his odd behaviour throughout the story. For example some of the odd things he did on the first meeting with the narrator, "he twice broke off with off with a fallen colour, turned his face to

  1. In what ways is "The Signalman" a typical ghost story?

    Dickens describes the tunnel (using quite simple adjectives) as having a "gloomy" entrance and the actual tunnel itself being "black" and the signal box as "dismal". But he then goes onto describe the mouth of the tunnel as described as having "a barbarous, depressing and forbidding air" and then the narrator feels as though he had "left the

  2. Examine the ways in which Charles Dickens builds suspense in 'The Signalman'

    The places where the story takes place are vital to the plotline and the building up of suspense. They reflect the eerie atmosphere and mood that is present throughout. The setting is revealed quite slowly at the start. This is because Dickens wanted to release information bit by bit, to keep the reader on the edge of their seat.

  1. Consider how Dickens creates and maintains suspense in 'The Signalman'

    He would have chose the site of the cutting because it was gloomy and had a 'deadly smell' even on a sunny day it would have been dark, and the signalman speaks of a cold wind that 'struck chill' to him.

  2. Outline the means whereby Dickens creates atmosphere in "the signalman"

    The narrator thinks there is "something remarkable" about the signalman's behaviour, but he can't really express it. The other thing that is noticeable about the narrator is that he is the only character that we have no description of. On the other hand, Dickens is careful to give an initial, scary description of the signalman.

  1. Explain what makes a good mystery story, based on your understanding of 'The Red ...

    reasoning and he tries to leave the room and accidently knocks him out. When he finally wakes up the next morning he realises that there was nothing supernatural about the room but only peoples fear of the unknown. The story keeps the reader guessing right up to the end of the story.

  2. 'The Signalman' and 'The Black Cat'

    'The Black Cat' is a mixture of mystery and horror. The plot is explained by the writer who uses some background with the diary of the victim. It all revolves around a phobia which a man has of cats. He is haunted by a ghostly character of a 'Black Cat'

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work