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How characteristic are 'The Signalman' and 'The Red Room' of the nineteenth century ghost stories

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How characteristic are 'The Signalman' and 'The Red Room' of the nineteenth century ghost stories? There are many characteristics that help to make up a typical nineteenth century ghost story. During this essay certain aspects will be discussed to find out if 'The Signalman' by Charles Dickens and 'The Red Room' by H.G. Wells contain the elements that constitute a ghost story. The main elements of a typical ghost story include the stereotypical aspects such as distortion of light to create shadow, isolation, and fear as well as emotive imagery, the inclusion of a non-believer/believer and having a suitable ending e.g. a twist. All these elements add to the tension and overall atmosphere of a nineteenth century ghost story. The first element that will be touched upon is the addition of the conventional features of a ghost story. These can include candles, moonlight, firelight, shadows and darkness. The distortion of light is a very effective way to create shadow, thus creating tension. In 'The Red Room' 'the moonlight...picked out everything in vivid black shadow or silvery illumination' which generates uncertainty and creates the illusion of 'the black shadow [springing] back to its place', which, in itself, brings the whole scene to life. Also, the suggestion of the colour 'black' creates the sense of death and evil, whereas the 'silvery illumination' gives the sense of a ghostly feeling. This distortion of light allows doubt to creep in and stir the imagination into turning even the most rational situation into a panic-stricken moment. ...read more.


The word 'it' is used continually through one of his speeches when the spectre is being depicted. This is because it is unsure what it exactly is so it has to be given a neutral gender. However, the word 'it' is repeated five times which shows that it has a large impact on him and he can not escape from being haunted! Dickens, however, does also use appeal to the senses to add fear to the text. For example, he writes: 'the slow touch of a frozen finger tracing down my spine'. This whole phrase adds a chill to the air and shows fear and vulnerability at its most. Alliteration is used on 'frozen finger' to stress the amount of cold fear that is being felt. Another characteristic of a nineteenth century ghost story is the supernatural. Throughout both 'The Signalman' and 'The Red Room' the supernatural is mentioned continuously. The use of the supernatural is one technique that the author uses to create suspense as it raises the question of the paranormal. As the narrator enters the entrance of the tunnel in 'The Signalman' it 'struck chill to [him], as if [he] had left the natural world.' This emphasises the uncertainty and doubt experienced to whether or not the supernatural exists. Also, when the narrator looks at the signal man he gets the sensation that 'this was a spirit, not a man.' This addresses the point that there are ghosts, and that this signalman did not seem to be completely real, but more of a 'spirit'. ...read more.


The narrator found the 'remoter darkness of the place, and its perfect stillness, too stimulating for the imagination.' This proves that under tense and lonely circumstances the silence can become unnerving, which, if left long enough, could result in madness. This madness can be seen to be suggested in 'The Signalman'. The signalman himself, had been a high educated young man, who was well brought up, but then had 'run wild, misused his opportunities [and] gone down'. The narrator thought him too educated to have his current job, and suggested that he go see 'the wisest medical practitioner'. It is suggested throughout the text that the isolation has affected the signalman and brought around his madness. This has the effect of making his story seem a little unbelievable, although having his background given reassures us of his intellect. After looking at certain aspects of a nineteenth century ghost, it is able to be concluded, that 'The Signalman' by Charles Dickens is less of a ghost story compared to 'The Red Room' by H.G. Wells. Imagery and the stereotypical aspects play an important part in creating the fear and suspense of a ghost story. 'The Signalman' seems to be short of the stereotypical features, such as candlelight, sounds and shadows, which 'The Red Room' portrays brilliantly. It is full of the emotive language that builds up the ultimate ghost story, and although 'The Signalman' is disturbing, it lacks the qualities that are needed. This makes 'The Red Room' a much more successful ghost story than 'The Signalman'. ?? ?? ?? ?? Melissa Kassinen, 10A 1 ...read more.

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