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Referring closely to the text, discuss the techniques that Charles Dickens uses in "The Signalman" to build up tension and explain how effective a ghost story it is. Explore the social and historical context in your answer.

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Introduction

The Signalman Referring closely to the text, discuss the techniques that Charles Dickens uses in "The Signalman" to build up tension and explain how effective a ghost story it is. Explore the social and historical context in your answer. "The Signalman" by Charles Dickens is a very pre 20th century story. There are many clues given to the reader about the period in which it was written. The first and most obvious clues are the multi-clausal sentences. These long-winded sentences are all descriptive passages, split up in between by the use of commas. There are quite a few of them in the story. Another clue that leads us to the conclusion that it is pre 20th century written, is that the idea of class is brought up, "If I telegraph danger, on either side of me, or on both...they would displace me." The signalman is frightened because if he signals danger and can't give a reason for it, they wouldn't believe and therefore they would "displace him". The signalman is 'trapped'. He also has no rights; he is of a lowly class, a low standard, and a bad job and has no authority. ...read more.

Middle

"The monstrous thought came into my mind as I perused the fixed eyes and the saturnine face, that this was a spirit, not a man." "As if I had left the natural world". These three sentences are probably the three most tension building sentences in the story although there are many more that build tension aswell. Charles Dickens also builds up tension by describing the signalman as 'gloomy', 'morose' and 'afraid'. We get to the conclusion that the signalman is an enigmatic person within the first few lines of the story. We slowly find out more about the signalman as the story progresses. Many questions are left for the reader for example 'is the signalman a ghost?' The most important question in the story is "what does the spectre mean?" Every time the narrator makes a visit more is revealed about signalman. The behaviour of the signalman is very strange, for example, he doesn't reply to the narrator in the beginning. His gestures are rather unusual and his looks are very strange. "He was a dark sallow man with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows." A bit later the narrator describes the signalman as a "spirit, not a man" and "I perused the fixed eyes and the saturnine face". ...read more.

Conclusion

We can feel sympathy for either the narrator or the signalman but mainly the signalman because he is of a lowly class and status and is 'trapped'. In the beginning, the narrator seems confused. He doesn't know why the signalman doesn't reply and why he looks ill, "saturnine face". Near the middle of the story, the narrator feels what the signalman feels, afraid to tell anybody incase they think that he is mad. Near the end he becomes quite good friends with the signalman. At the end when the signalman dies, the narrator is extremely upset about it. In the beginning the signalman seems afraid of the narrator because he calls "Halloa! Below there!" and he thinks it is the ghost, therefore, he doesn't reply but when the narrator comes down to him and begins to talk the signalman feels more at ease and begins to tell of his story. The narrator is frightened throughout the story and feels he can't tell anyone else about the ghost incase they think he is mad (or in the signalman's case, so they don't displace him). When the signalman dies I think he thought the train and the driver were ghosts. The twist at the end is extremely unexpected and interesting and makes the story rise to a climax all of a sudden. Khalid Attia English Coursework 1 ...read more.

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