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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: English
  • Essay length: 1164 words

The Signalman By Charles Dickens, Explain How the Author Creates an Appropriate Atmosphere for His Ghost Story Through the Description of the Setting and His Expression and Use of Language.

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The main points in this story are the Signalman himself, the spectre that repeatedly appears to him, to seemingly give a vague indication of impending danger, the strange connection between the narrator's unspoken words and the spectre's gestures, and the foretold deaths on the Line. Naturally, Dickens will need to create an appropriate setting. The Signalman is a ghost story, so for the events in his story, he will need to create a somewhat mystical and eerie feeling, particularly at night when the spectre often appears, and he will need it to have a secluded feeling to give the impression that the Signalman is alone and so has to cope with the spectre and it's predictions in isolation. This adds to the "ghost story image". Dickens starts to set the scene immediately with a reference to the unusual setting, he writes "considering the nature of the ground" which suggests that it is not normal and "the steep cutting nearly over his head" which gives the image of a valley, shadowed by one or more steep banks, helping to portray a feeling of seclusion.


"Halloa! Below!" when this phrase is repeated, it adds emphasis and makes it stand out, almost subconsciously, to the reader. Dickens says "considering the nature of the ground" and "the steep cutting nearly over his head" to set the basics of the scene, an unusual valley. Dickens then uses "foreshortened and shadowed" in describing the Signalman's figure to initially show that he seems dark and solitary. He then uses alliteration to enforce "down in the deep trench". The phrase "angry sunset" is used to add a fiery red light to his dark valley, which is shown with phrases such as "his figure was foreshortened and shadowed", and again adding an element of mystery because the narrator says "I had shaded my eyes with my hand before I saw him at all" to first of all, introduce the spectre's gesture, but also to give the impression that the light doesn't reach the valley, but skims the top and he has to block it out to see into the darkness, and by using the word "angry", he makes the sunlight seem almost intimidating in itself.


So little sunlight ever found it's way to this spot, that it had an earthy deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it, that it struck a chill to me, as if I had left the natural world" this again give is an unearthly, solitary and altogether haunting location, which Dickens adds to by saying "This was a lonesome post to occupy" and "a visitor was a rarity". At later points in the story, Dickens returns to this idea and comments on the Signalman's responsibilities but lack of actual physical work, and because he has so much responsibility, and the spectre's predictions are so vague, he is almost driven to insanity by the helplessness he feels, which is accented by the loneliness and solitude of his station. In conclusion, it is a multitude of factors, which amount to the ghostly setting of the story, each element important in one way or another. Everything from the wording of the speech and description of the valley, to the colour of the signalman's uniform. K.A.Hurdley Page 1 2407/05/2007

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