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How did Charles Dickens create an atmosphere of tension and mystery in the short story 'The Signalman'?

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Introduction

English Essay: The Signalman Jamie Pender How did Charles Dickens create an atmosphere of tension and mystery in the short story 'The Signalman'? This story has two main characters, the narrator and the signalman. The signalman lives in his hut by a rail tunnel, with a steep cutting above it. The narrator goes to visit the signalman every day, and there are many ways in which Charles Dickens creates a genuine atmosphere of tension and mystery in this short story 'The Signalman'. We never know who the narrator actually is - although he is obviously a mysterious character because we don't find out any information about him as the story progresses. There are several explanations as to what he might have been; perhaps he was a ghost who never fulfilled his purpose in life because he got knocked down on the rail track, or more likely, the narrator resembles the 'Grim Reaper' and has come to subtly tell the signalman that his time in life is up. He doesn't give a reason for being there either, and we never find out his name. We also know very little about the signalman - but what we do know we find out from the narrator asking him. ...read more.

Middle

It is clear he has a purpose in life, and resembles a pawn in a game of chess being played out by fate and destiny. There are several moments when a reader would feel tension in this story, and one is best described in the middle of the story, when the signalman has a premonition of his own death. The first words of the story are 'Halloa! Below there!'. In the following quote, the signalman has just asked the narrator why he said that: "Heaven knows,' said I. 'I cried something to that effect -' 'Not to that effect, sir. Those were the very words. I know them well.' 'For no other reason?' 'What other reason could I possibly have?' 'You had no feeling that they were conveyed to you in any supernatural way?' 'No.' This is a long and interesting quote, and presents an image of tension and mystery in particular. The signalman clearly thinks that he has heard the words 'Halloa! Below there!' but at this point, we do not know when or where he heard those words. It is around this point in the story when the signalman tells the narrator that he is troubled, and it isn't long until we find out the reason why. ...read more.

Conclusion

The narrator went to the point where he was at the beginning of the story. At the mouth of the tunnel he saw the appearance of a man, passionately waving with his right arm. He noticed that the danger light was not yet lit and that a new hut had been made with wooden supports and was no bigger than a bet (this must represent a coffin). The narrator believed that fatal mischief had come of his leaving the man there. He ran down the cutting as fast as he could and asked a group of men what the matter was. "Signalman killed this morning, sir.' 'Not the man belonging to that box?' 'Yes, sir.'" The narrator found out that an engine cut down the signalman because he wasn't clear of the rail despite it being a broad day. The train driver said "Below there! Look out! Look out! For God's sake clear the way!" Although 'The Signalman' isn't perhaps the most interesting story, it is well written, to the point and does make the reader feel tension and mystery as to what is going to happen next. The story creates an image of tension and mystery due to the constant coincidences of the call "Halloa! Below there!" and the detail in which the story is written despite it being a short one. ...read more.

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