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The Signalman

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The Signalman In this essay I am going to explore how Charles Dickens creates the appropriate atmosphere in the short ghost story The Signalman. The story is set in the 1860's in a railroad cutting, this was around the time that trains were coming into use. The story is about a train Signalman, who gets a visit from a man. The man visits the Signalman for a second time and is told that he is troubled by a ghost. On his third visit to the Signalman he finds that he has been killed by a train. The story is started with the line, "HALLOW! Below there!" This is direct speech. From this line we do not know who is calling or whom they are calling to, this makes the reader ask questions about the story and what is going to happen next. We do know from this line that someone is up high calling down. Later in this paragraph we are told more about where they are, "but instead of looking up to were I stood on top of a steep cutting nearly over his head, he turned himself and looked down the Line." The Narrator finds this behaviour strange. As he says, "One would have thought considering the nature of the ground that he could have not doubted what quarter the voice came from." ...read more.


Not even removing his eyes off mine, he stepped back one step and lifted his hand." This behaviour makes the reader think that the Signalman is afraid of the man, as he appears he is afraid to move or takes his eyes off him. He also steps back away from him as though he is being threatened. The reader is also made to feel that the Signalman is strange. The Narrator also steps away from the Signalman and says that he thought he may be a ghost, "the monstrous thought came into my mind, as I perused the fixed eyes and saturnine face, that this was a spirit, not a man." This language is intense, the words monstrous, saturnine and spirit are words that create an out of the ordinary atmosphere, relating to the supernatural, it also gives a sense of a remorseful story line. This is irony as we find out later that the Signalman keeps seeing a ghost, and at first thought the Narrator was a ghost. The story is set in a railroad cutting. The cutting is described vividly at the beginning of the story. Dickens uses words such as clammy, oozier and wetter, these words are all wet words and describe the cutting in a dull and depressing way, making the reader feel uneasy about the setting. ...read more.


The story is structured so that both the narrator and the reader are kept in suspense about what is going to happen next. It is set over a period of three days and although the days carry straight on from one another we are kept in suspense as we have to wait until the Narrator has described the atmosphere and walked down the cutting until we know what is going to happen. The tension is raised at the end of the first day when the Narrator is asked to wait until the next day to find out about what is troubling the Signalman. On the third day the tension is high straight away as there is a large amount of activity were there is normally none. We can feel the Narrators fear, "the nameless horror that oppressed me passed in a moment." At this point we are withheld information of what has happened until the Narrator asks the men what has happened. We can therefore see that Dickens created the appropriate atmosphere using various literary techniques. Also by withholding information from the Narrator and the reader to make them want to know what is going on. He also uses the description of the cutting to create a tense environment. The strange behaviour of the Signalman adds to the atmosphere and is used to confuse both the Narrator and the reader. ...read more.

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