Signalman and Red Room analysis

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With reference to the two short stories, “The Red Room” by H.G. Wells and “The Signalman” by Charles Dickens, consider the ways in which tension and suspense are built up for the reader.

   “The Signalman” was published by Charles Dickens in 1866 during the mid-Victorian period where at that particular time there was a conflict between scientific and modern thoughts with the old beliefs. This period was witnessing the industrial revolution. It was a time of great change whether in inventions or advances in technology and science. The story refers to inventions that were made recently including railways which were beginning to extend over the country as well as steam trains and signal boxes which now seem to us as an old invention, but at that time, they were great inventions that were remarkable. During that time there were very harsh class divisions between the high and low class. Charles Dickens published the story almost a year after he personally eye witnessed a railway accident which killed ten people and injured more. “The Red Room” was published in 1894 by H.G. Wells, it was written in the late Victorian age. “The Red Room” is quite different from the “The Signalman” because it is written more in the gothic type genre. Gothic story-telling is a type of horror which engages any mystic or unnatural powers that would terrify the reader, such as ghosts or haunted castles. The story is based in a castle which we later discover that it is not an ordinary one but in fact a haunted castle. The writer holds the reader in suspense using horror and irrational thoughts and ideas, which is every person’s worst nightmare to even think that such odd things even exist in the first place.  

   In “The Signalman”, the narrator opens the story by calling down to the signalman, indicating to us perhaps that the narrator is from a higher class or status than the signalman is, because he is the one calling from high up, as though he is in the light surrounding, and that the signalman is trapped down in the dark area with no importance or significance. This starts the tension at the beginning of the story by making us ask questions about the significance of the way the narrator is calling ‘down’ to the signalman. There is a strange atmosphere foreboding being built up and is increasing gradually in the first paragraph, by informing us that the signalman didn’t detect from where the voice came from. The writer reinforces the odd feeling when he states: ‘There was something remarkable in his manner of doing so.’ This statement adds to the tension because it makes us wonder why the signalman didn’t notice that the narrator is calling him or is there another explanation behind this point. Overall the narrator is very patient and does not take the signalman’s actions as an insult, but rather as a mystery to be investigated. The narrator uses dark and evil adjectives to build up the sense of darkness that the signalman is going through and living, such as ‘shadowed’, ‘deep’ and ‘foreshortened’ which increases the tension that we feel towards the strange signalman, because it reminds the reader of the gothic setting, so he will expect a supernatural event to occur later on. When a train approaches the narrator talks about how he started sensing the ‘vague vibration in the earth’ and air ‘quickly changing into a violent pulsation’ and an ‘oncoming rush’. This increases the suspense of the reader because it makes the reader wanting to know more about this vibration in the earth and what is causing it. The narrator states the vibration ‘had force to draw me down,’ he describes the force that he felt that due to the vibration as if it had irrational and supernatural powers. The train is described as having ‘force’ to ‘draw’ the narrator down, because the narrator starts to feel vibrations as in the earth slowly, but after a short period of time they become stronger and more violent. Also when the narrator feels ‘vague vibrations in the earth’ the alliteration focuses on the violent force.

   The narrator does not identify to us who ‘he’ actually is up to this point in the story, because he wants us to stay in a mysterious mood, one that will keep us asking ourselves questions. By also keeping his identity unknown he is already giving us a sense of darkness and leaves us curious, not knowing if he is good or evil. The narrator describes the signalman as ‘a dark sallow man, with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows’. From the first moment he saw him, the narrator tells us that the signalman’s physical shape is dark and unhappy. The impression that the narrator took from seeing the signalman wasn’t quite the best, it adds to the tension by continually using the word ‘dark’ in the description. This begins to give the reader the feeling that the signalman was evil. The narrator describes the setting as ‘solitary’ and ‘dismal’. These two adjectives give us the feeling that the signalman is in a depressing mood and lonely place. As we read on in the story the narrator describes the tunnel as ‘barbarous’, ‘depressing’ and with a ‘forbidding air’, all of these descriptions makes us in some sort of way feel sad for the life of the signalman due to the area of residence and atmosphere that he lives in. At the end of the paragraph the narrator summarizes all of the previous descriptions by stating: ‘as if I had left the natural world’, this means that Dickens is giving us readers the feeling that this place that he entered was out of this world.

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   While we read on in the story we discover that the signalman is educated and so our beliefs about his irrationality are dispelled. We are reassured of this when the narrator states that the signalman had worked on fractions and decimals previously. There is a conflict at this point, of whether the signalman is rational or irrational. As readers we are surprised, because we discover that he is educated and that he self-taught himself about various issues in life. This is interesting for us to be aware of about because we are now asking ourselves the reason behind him ...

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