Charles Dickens' The Signalman

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Charles Dickens' The Signalman

In every good ghost story I have ever read the writer builds an air of

mystery and apprehension as the story unfolds, until the climax. This

serves to both keep the reader interested and question what is going

to happen next but makes them feel scared and anxious.

In my essay intend to explore how Charles Dickens creates an

atmosphere of mystery and suspense in 'the signalman'. I will do this

in three ways: By the description of setting, characters and by the

imagery and literary techniques used.

This ghost story is set in a 19th century railway cutting, which seems

to be remote and desolate. All the way through the story the cutting

is described as a 'solitary and dismissal place'. This serves to make

the reader think of how lonely and isolated the cutting is.

It is described as a 'Great dungeon' with a 'deadly smell'. This tells

me that it would not be a comfortable and rewarding place to work.

When the narrator is down the cutting the opening of the tunnel is

described as an 'Entrance to a black tunnel'. This suggests that it is

the entrance to the tunnel of death. This becomes true as the story



The air is then described as 'Barbarous, Depressing an Forbidding'.

This gives the reader a picture of a savage and uncivilised place.

This point is later backed up.

'A vague vibration in the earth and air' then ' a violent pulsation'

and an 'oncoming rush and vapour'. This caption suggests that the

effect of the train is that of an earth-shaking monster. The trains'

steam can be seen as smoke from its mouth. The word 'violent' hints at

a hostile creature.

As the narrator descends he describes the stone as 'clammy… that

became oozier and wetter as it went down'. Here the writer uses

thermal and tactile images creating an unpleasant impression when


'A rough zigzagged descending path … cutting was extremely deep and

usually precipitous'.

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