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How does Dickens create tension in “The Signalman”?

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Laura Foxwell: English Course work How does Dickens create tension in "The Signalman"? Creation of tension in the opening of the story; Tension is created through setting and character. The setting of the story is a deep railway embankment with a large dark tunnel. The Signalman lives alone in a small hut with little but a fire and bed inside. He has a wary manner. This creates an atmosphere of danger and fear. When the Signalman has a visit from an unknown character he is suspicious. He suspects that the visitor is the super natural appearance that he keeps meeting hence his strange reaction. This creates tension and an atmosphere of foreboding. The Signalman and the Visitor are the main characters in the story. When the Signalman starts to tell his own story about the sightings he keeps seeing, the Visitor is intrigued. He is a caring person, who may have been enclosed in some way himself, maybe in a monastery and so he relates to the Signalman's situation well. Dickens establishes tension when describing the setting. He describes the tunnel that is near his hut almost like a prison. ...read more.


Later in the story we see contrast between the Signalman and the powerful trains. The Signalman is seen to be a caring and kind man, which is juxtapose of the violent powerful trains and the accidents they cause. When the Signalman first hears the Visitor call out to him he doesn't look up at him, "He looked down along the railway line". Which suggests the Signalman thinks it is the voice of the spectre calling out to him. This builds tension as we see the confusion of the Signalman and the misunderstood thoughts of the Visitor who is watching the Signalman's actions. The Signalman's behaviour builds tension elsewhere. The Signalman continuously keeps looking at the mechanical bell for no apparent reason. Dickens wrote "He twice broke off with a fallen colour, turned his face towards the little bell when it did not ring, opened the door and looked out towards the red light. We don't know why the Signalman does this and wonder what he can sense. The suspense of not knowing creates tension. We see tension in the short story in one of the conversations between the Visitor and the Signalman. ...read more.


Each time the words "Halloa! Below there! "Are repeated they become even more chilling. These words are coincidentally the words that the engine driver uses and the words that haunt the Signalman. The many delays add tension to the story because they increase suspense, therefore increasing tension When the Visitor finally gets to see the appearance he seems pleased. We are told that the Visitor "Could not describe the thrill" Of seeing the appearance. He is pleased as now he can help the Signalman and also he can relate to the Signalman's story. This builds tension as we know every time the spectre appears an accident follows. This is broken when the Visitor sees the spectre. The ending of the book is very straightforward compared to the rest of the short story, though the mystery is not over. When the Visitor talks to the engine driver, he says, "Signalman killed". This short answer easily and quickly describes what has happened. I think the stories' setting is a key factor, the deep railway line is an excellent setting for this story. The characters nervousness and anxiety influences the reader's suspense. The speech used by the characters reflects their feelings to the reader. These points combined all create tension in Charles Dickens "The Signalman". ...read more.

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