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How does Dickens create suspense in 'The Signalman'?

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In the following piece I will describe how Dickens creates suspense in "The Signalman" by exploring the settings and the characters. The novel was written by Charles Dickens in the 19th century, and is set in a deep cutting adjacent to a tunnel with a railway running through. Suspense is created through supernatural, horror and ambiguity. Dickens' 'The Signalman' has all of these factors, which combine together excellently for a thrilling suspense story. The novel opens with the quote "Halloa! Below there!" This short, but effective line becomes very decisive as the story unfolds. We don't know who is speaking and so it already creates a suspicion, which is initially adding tension. The man he is shouting at below "Looked down the line". In most circumstances, any person would look upwards in response to this. Dickens has initially created the unexplainable which builds up the tension and suspense further. At this time we don't know who the men are. What Dickens' is attempting to do is to make you curious, to make you think as the plot unfolds which adds suspense. Dickens then goes on to describe the man below "There was something remarkable in his manner of doing so". ...read more.


This is because darkness blurs the narrator's vision so he can't be sure what is out there. The signalman is evidently going to be an important character once they start talking and his actions are purposefully odd. He stands intently in the railway "Before he stirred I was near enough to have touched him". When they do meet he makes no attempt to start the conversation, instead he "Look towards the red light." He seems of a very mysterious and unpredictable character. As they begin to talk again the man becomes slightly hostile and the narrator speculates that "This was a spirit". This is a very tense point in the novel because the ghosts' identity may have already been revealed, but the signalman begins to show fear and asks if they have met before. It makes you think, why should the signalman show any fear? After their conversation the man leaves and the signalman tells him that on his return journey not call out those words. "Halloa! Below there!" It builds tension over what these words really mean to the signalman and why he is scared of them. The signalman himself looks like "A dark sallow man". ...read more.


Instead the signalman holds this role. When the plot unfolds it is the gentleman's fault that the signalman dies because if he hadn't called down to him in the first place, the signalman would have looked up as the train came down the tunnel. "Halloa! Below there!" The first words of the story are the most decisive words of the story. The reader is questioning if it could have been fate, and if his death could not have been prevented. "The words which I myself - not he - had attached". He obviously feels responsible for his death and you feel that if he hadn't associated himself with the man none of this would have happened. This is quite a mysterious and even scary thought. It is evident that Dickens creates a lot of suspense throughout the story with the opening words and as he descends the cutting, looking at the signalman whose action is very weird. Suspense is also created as the signalman tells the gentleman of the weird happenings recently. The settings are very mysterious and even prone to something similar to this happening. With this nineteenth century novel, Dickens' has used his ability to bring mystery, the unexplainable and first person narrative into a story which is then filled with suspense. ...read more.

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