How the Authors of The Signalman and The Red Room Use First-Person Narrative

How the Authors of The Signalman and The Red Room Use First-Person Narrative

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How the Authors of The Signalman and The Red Room Use First-Person Narrative

In this essay two novels will be compared. The first written by
Charles Dickens entitled, `The Signalman` and the second is H G Wells’
`The Red Room`. I seek to find out how first person narration is used
to manipulate the thoughts and feelings of the readers and how the two
are similar.

The two poems are both similar in that they are both pre 1914 prose
about ghosts and are based on the supernatural, the two tales also
create suspense and tension in the atmosphere surrounding the

The stories are written in first person native for example, the
authors of `The Red Room` and `The Signalman` both tell the story
using speech as the main technique telling the story through the
narrator, “Is there any path by which I can come down and speak to
you?” this makes the reader feel closer to the character due to his
personal experience.

The Signalman

At the start of `The Signalman` the atmosphere is bizarre. The story
begins in a deep, damp cutting adjacent to a tunnel with a railway
running through it, which is described as `barbarous`, `depressing`
and with `forbidding air`. The scene is set at twilight therefore
because of the darkness the two men don’t get to see each other
properly and this enhances the mysterious element of the story. At the
point in which he’s just about to go down `the cutting`, a vibration
shakes the ground, Dickens writes, `vague vibration in the earth and
air`, which describes the movement, he also uses a lot effective
adjectives like, `violent` and `pulsation`, which conveys fears and
adds to the tension which is building up, but this time it was just a
train passing and the tension is lost. Dickens describes the cutting
as being, “Extremely deep and unusually precipitous” and “Solitary and
dismal”, he uses the detailed description to give the setting an eerie
edge. The story only takes place within the cutting. The two men meet
at the cutting at night, “I will come at eleven”, Dickens says, this
sustains the tension due to the darkness and our own knowledge that
the supernatural experiences always occur at night.

The narrator feels very sympathetic towards The Signalman, as he keeps
revisiting him to find out more about his life and his experiences,
“But I expressly intend to make you another visit”, the narrator also
talks about an “infection in the mind” and “deception of his sense of
sight” and recommends `The Signalman` to see a doctor, when he sees
the ghost, which reveals his level of concern for his new

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The Signalman is the main character in this story and at the beginning
he seems to be a bit weird and mysterious which contributes to the
atmosphere. “The monstrous thought came into my mind as I perused the
fixed eye and the saturnine, that was a spirit, not a man”. As the
story goes on `The Signalman` helps create the supernatural story, he
describes the `spectre`, at the mouth of the railway tunnel, which
adds to the mystery. However as the story progresses and we find more
out about `The Signalman` we begin to find him more ordinary,
intelligent, sensible, well educated and very skilful at his job “He
had taught himself a language… and… he had also worked at fractions
and decimals and tried a little algebra”. Throughout the story `The
Signalman` talks about his experiences and makes a connection between
the `spectre` and death. `The Signalman` thinks he can prevent a death
by telling people about this, as he is clearly very disturbed by it.

The ending for me answers all of the questions, about `The Signalman`
and the `spectre`. I now know that it is not a ghost story, which
earlier on it seemed to be because of the `spectre`, also when I
thought `The Signalman` was seeing a ghost from the past I now know he
is seeing glimpses into the future. This is because Dickens
deliberately mislead us into thinking it is a ghost story, but it
turns out not to be.

The Red Room

The story of `The Red Room` is set in a gothic castle, the old people
who own it cannot live in it, as they are too afraid of `The Red
Room`. A castle is a perfect setting for a supernatural story because
it is full of haunted rooms, underground passages, secret stairways
and a spiral staircase. In the story, the young man explores the
castle on his journey to `The Red Room` en route, he comes across an
ornament of a chinaman on a Buhl table and then as he approaches the
door to `The Red Room`, the tension starts to build up and he enters
quickly and quietly closing the door behind him, he finds himself in a
huge red walled room, at this point he doesn’t really know what is
going on and as a result the tension is allowed to fall, but as he
becomes more aware of the shadows in the room the tension rises again.
This is very like `The Signalman`, when the tension rose, then it was
a train and so it fell again

The narrator in `The Red Room` is arrogant and foolish in what he says
and in the way that he says it “Eight and twenty years I have lived,
and never a ghost have I seen as yet”, the archaic construction
reveals the age of the text, he ignores warnings from old people, as
he thinks there is no ghost. Also the narrator believed that the
supernatural did not exist whereas now he is fearful of it. When a
number of candles go out the narrator lets out “A cry of terror”. As
the candles have gone out he tries to relight them from the fire and
it instantly disappears “I turned to where the flames were still
dancing between the glowing coals, and splashing red reflections upon
the furniture, made two steps to toward the grate, incontinently the
flames dwindled and vanished”. This is a very long sentence which
conveys his fear. When this happens he starts running round the room
in total darkness, “I was now almost frantic with the horror of the
coming darkness and my self-possession deserted me”. When he wakes up
he tries to explain the meaning of his panic, he says that fear is the
main enemy of reason, but, the narrator leaves out two vital details,
the candles going out and the fire instantly disappearing, this shows
that the narrator refuses to face up to those parts of his experience.

The other main characters in `The Red Room` are the custodians, an old
man, his wife and a man with a spade. In the story we never find out
these peoples names, which distances them from the reader and gives
them an ominous edge. The three older people believe that `The Red
Room` is haunted and they dare not even go there. These characters are
strange and unusual, H.G. Wells made them like that, as it makes the
atmosphere seem strange and eerie, “His lower lip half diverted, hung
pale and pink from his decaying yellow teeth, the old woman sat
staring hard into the fire, her pale eyes wide open”, this haunting
description of them adds to the atmosphere, they are described using
deathly adjectives “decaying”, “pale”. The old people are also
contributing to the atmosphere when they give the narrator several
warnings about visiting `The Red Room`, “Its your own choosing, this
night of all nights”. Even though the narrator does not believe in the
supernatural, he is made nervous as he walks to `The Red Room` by the
old peoples warnings.

When reading `The Red Room` there is never the feeling of complete
closure, also the narrator tries to explain what has happened but
fails to explain two vital details, firstly the candles going out,
secondly the unexplained detail is when the narrator tries to light
his candle at the fire. There is very little emotion at the end of the
story, I think this is due to H.G. Wells being interested in issues
concerning the supernatural.


Overall I think `The Signalman` and `The Red Room` are not as similar
as it first appeared. They both incorporate an element of the
supernatural however the two men in the stories are in two completely
different situations. In `The Red Room` the man is very scared and a
very lonely person. But the other man is more mystified than scared,
`The Signalman` was also scared for the future. However there are
parts where both stories do share similarities, for example, `The
Signalman` is similar to `The Red Room`, because the experiences of
The Signalman forms the foundations of the story which is similar to
`The Red Room` where the experiences of the old people form the
foundation of the story. The narrators in both stories are different
as well. In the `The Red Room` the narrator is arrogant and pompous in
what he says and the ways he says it refusing to acknowledge the
concept of a haunted room. The narrator in `The Signalman` is more
sympathetic and is interested in his experiences. Although the two
narrators are very different, there actions in some situation are very
similar, believing there are no ghosts. In `The Red Room` there is no
feeling of complete closure, however `The Signalman` is completely the
opposite there being a complete sense of closure. At the end of `The
Red Room` there is little emotion this is due to issues concerning the
supernatural, so there is very little emotion at the end of the story,
this is in contrast to `The Signalman` where we feel great pity and
sadness for `The Signalman’s` death.
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