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Outline the means whereby Dickens creates atmosphere in "the signalman"

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Outline the means whereby Dickens creates atmosphere in "the signalman" Dickens' "The Signalman" is one of his best known short stories. Written in the late eighteen-fifties it is a chilling story about a railway signalman who has visions of a spirit. The signalman works in a very dismal, dreary place and when he is found by the narrator, he appears to be wary of him. When the narrator goes down to the signalman, it is as if he was waiting for someone. The spirit that is seen by the signalman on many occasions, appears to signify that something bad is about to happen. It always has its eyes covered by its left arm, and it is waving, standing by the danger light. The spectre is a very intriguing character. For instance: why are his eyes always covered? Why is he always waving? How can the spectre make the bell ring in a different way from normal? ...read more.


He is a "dark sallow man with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows." He is always wary, tense and preoccupied. The signalman is a well educated man, who does not appear to fit into his job. However he is particularly conscientious in carrying out his duties as a railway signalman. The signalman is not the sort of person who would be expected to see and believe in apparitions or the paranormal. Dickens describes the spectre dramatically: with his left arm hiding his eyes, and his right arm waving vigorously. The impact that he gives creates an urgent effect to the story. The spectre never appears to hear the signalman; whenever he answers the signalman's calls, the reply is just a repetition of "Hallo! Below there! Look out! Look out!" which intensifies the whole effect of the spectre. The first time the signalman hears this, there is a train collision in the tunnel shortly afterwards. The second time he hears it, somebody dies inside one of the train compartments. ...read more.


No wonder the narrator gets such an impression of the deeply depressing and oppressing surroundings. In conclusion, Dickens uses several different methods of creating the intense atmosphere in this story. Some of these are: his use of vividly descriptive language for example a "barbarous depressing and forbidding air", by describing in detail the surrounding landscape and area. For example "so little sunlight ever found its way into this spot that it had an earthy, deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it, that it struck chill to me as if I had left the natural world." Also one of the most important things in this story is Dickens' use of characterisation. There are two main characters the signalman and the narrator but there is also the spectre. Here arises the question, does the title "the signalman" refer to the physical signalman, or the spectre who signals disasters. The main power of this story comes from Dickens' skill in making the reader ask questions, which can never be answered. To me it is this that makes "the signalman" such a puzzling and mysterious narrative. ...read more.

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