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How does Dickens create suspense in

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How does Dickens create suspense in "The Signalman"? I am going to be studying "The Signalman" written by Charles Dickens in 1866. I will be observing an analysing how he creates suspense in the story and how effective this is. 'The Signalman' is a short story written in the middle of an exciting period in British history, the Industrial revolution. This was the time of great invention, modernisation and a time, which many of the everyday items that we use today were invented, such as trains. There were a number of influences to Dickens' story. A year before the story was written; Dickens himself was involved in a fatal train crash, in which ten people died and many more were injured. This could have also been the main influence to the story because he may have thought that he should give people the slight impression that the new invention of trains weren't totally safe. Trains were a new invention, therefore, Victorians were excited and fascinated by them. A story involving a train would have interested the audience greatly. Also stories including a supernatural element were highly popular at the time, due to books such as "Frankenstein" written by Mary Shelley 1818. Elements of the modern, futuristic and supernatural being referred to in "The Signalman" was quite unusual. Most popular stories of the time with a horror summary were usually set in gothic settings such as dark woods or forests, castles and haunted houses, which the signalman was. To use a modern setting combined with supernatural was strange and would attract attention to those looking for something a little different from the normal. The Victorians had a fear about the technological advances, as unemployment would rise and there would be an economical depression. ...read more.


This shows that he must have, in the past, been affluent and intelligent enough to attend. Through whatever circumstances, the signalman never graduated. In Victorian times, most people didn't get the chance to go to university and if one was fortunate enough to be given the chance, there were no second chances if one wasted their opportunity. The job of a signalman is one, which requires concentration and precision. It is a position of high responsibility and trust. This could be viewed, by the signalman as an opportunity to redeem himself. A second chance perhaps, at proving his worth. The job of a signalman requires precision and Dickens shows that the signalman has it, "I observed him to be remarkably exact and vigilant". The signalman is obviously in a state of nervousness and is continually on edge. He is afraid of something and Dickens shows this by the signalman speaking in a "low" voice. The reader would want to know why anyone would speak purposely quiet when there isn't a soul around to disturb. This is unusual behaviour and the reader will begin to wonder why he is behaving in such a way. The signalman's conversations with the narrator begin very guarded. "It is very difficult to impart, sir". On the first night the signalman refuses to give many details and throughout the conversation seems to be afraid of and dreads the narrator. This creates suspense because it is keeping the reader hanging on, wanting to know what the signalman has to hide. The narrator, after repeating, "is there any path by which I can come down and speak to you?" approaches the signalman by the zigzag path. ...read more.


Castle settings were commonly used in many famous horror novels of the time such as "Dracula" and "Frankenstein". The suspense and intrigue created by Dickens leads the reader to believe the story has supernatural explanations. The Victorian readers of the time would have, in my opinion, enjoyed "The Signalman". Many readers of the story would be of higher class, as they tended to be the only ones educated enough to be able to read. The story could be a deterrent, showing that if they squander their opportunities in they way the signalman did, they too could end up in a simple, laborious and manual job too. "The Signalman" could also be read another way dependant on the way the reader interprets it. The story could be providing some self-esteem and dignity to those in lower class situations, something to make them proud of what they are doing and make it feel worthwhile. The signalman was once a well off, upper-class citizen and the stresses of a commoner's job caused him to become unstable, deranged and irrational. Most sane people do not report to have seeing apparitions and spectres. Lower class people could read the story and feel satisfaction in whatever job they are doing and feel self-importance. The story could be used as motivational propaganda to boost moral of the lower class workforce. The use of no finalised ending gives the reader no closure to the story. This yet another way to keep the reader in suspense. Dickens has used excellent techniques in "The Signalman" to create suspense, and keep the suspense strong throughout the story all the way to the very end. Even after the reader has finished the story there is still suspense remaining, as they are asking themselves what the actual ending is. This is the result of successful use of various techniques to create suspense. By Shannon Phillips ...read more.

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