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The Element of Fear: Dickens´ The Signalman and Wells´ Red Room Essay

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Charles Dickens’ ‘The Signalman,’ and H.G Wells’ ‘Red Room’ are both short stories written to grip readers through the element of fear. Both tales were written near the end of the Victorian era, during Queen Victoria’s reign. Victorian Britain had a liking for literature, including short stories. Short stories were idyllic because they were a source of instant entertainment, the type required in technologically withdrawn times. People were also becoming increasingly interested in supernatural events such as mesmerism. These two short stories catered to the needs of the Victorians, which is probably why they were so popular. H.G Wells’ ‘Red Room’ was written in 1896. The story sees an overconfident ghost hunter trying to disprove the myth that the red room is haunted by spending a night there. Charles Dickens’ ‘The Signalman’ was written in 1866. The narrator of the story encounters a signalman who believes he has witnessed supernatural creatures, and identifies them as messengers of danger. Both stories feature skeptical men who encounter fear by the end of the short story. The element of fear is shown most explicitly by the speaker in the ‘Red Room,’ who is victimized by fear. The speaker in ‘the Signalman’ initially blames the unusual railway incidents on mere coincidence as opposed to paranormal activity but fails to find further explanations for the numerous incidents that occured. The signalman is the character who is consumed by fear, which leads him to his inevitable death. Both Charles Dickens and H.G Wels use darkness and shadows as a symbol of fear. They both use fireplaces, which cast shadows. The signalman is described as a ‘shadowed’ figure when the narrator first sees him. The tunnel is described as ‘black’....


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...dence that the engine-driver said the same words and performed the same ‘gesticulation’ which haunted the signalman, leaving the reader on edge. H.G Wells’ tale is more about human psychology as opposed to ghosts and supernatural beings. The writer is trying to emphasise how fear can be amongst us, even when paranormal is not. Fear itself has the potential to wreck humans by clouding their reason, judgement and self-control. The narrator of the ‘Red Room’ sums this theory up by commenting that fear is ‘the worst of all things that haunt poor mortal man.’ The speaker understands this. In ‘the Signalman’ the narrator still calls the incidents coincidences. He is almost in a state of denial and disbelief. The short stories ‘Red Room’ and ‘the Signalman’ show how even the intelligent, confident people can be altered by fear. Fear is an uncontrollable force to humans.


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