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The Signalman

‘The Signalman’ was written in the early 18th century, by Charles Dickens. This story is set in the Victorian era, where technology and machinery did not play an important role in the livelihood of people, but images and honesty did.

‘The Signalman’, right from the beginning of the story, engrosses the reader in a world of his own. “..standing at the door of his box, with a flag in his hand, furled around its short pole” immediately brings the reader to an imaginative mind where he knows exactly what the narrator is describing, that is, as the title suggests, the signalman. The narrator, placed on a pedestal, indicates his heightened position where he calls out to the signalman “Halloa! Below there!” He being on a bridge and the signalman below it starts to create an unpleasant atmosphere, which enhances the foreboding element present in the story. The cutting is an unpleasant place and the tunnel is described as if it were hell on earth. This helps to create the atmosphere of darkness in the story.


The atmosphere at the beginning of the story is eerie and quickly-paced, that heightens the drama that is about to take place further ahead. “Just then there came a vague vibration in the earth and air, quickly changing into a violent pulsation, and an oncoming rush that caused me to start back, as though it had force to draw me down” describes what was going on in the narrator’s mind as he brought himself lower towards the signalman. He was dubious, but confident and self assured at the same time, even though the atmosphere surrounding him was haunting and created a sinister affect. The way the surrounding is described as ‘dark, damp, unsanitary and gloomy’ makes the heart skip a beat just to get to the other part of the story.

The ‘signalman’ on the other hand, was a learned man who knew his job better than no other. His character, however, was disreputable and underhanded. He is lonely, yet sane and sensible at the same time. The nature of his own personality is such, that Dickens, emphasizing on it, creates a thick layer of anxiety and tension between the two characters. This characteristic in this story, quickens the suspense and drama which attracts the reader to read the story in one go, and in fact, create all sorts of images and sinister thoughts in his mind.

The narrator is very interested in the signalman and seems keen to help him. Unfortunately, the signalman is killed by a train before the visitor can do anything to prevent the tragedy. The onlookers’ description of the death informs us that it was the so-called supernatural force or his hallucinations that enticed the signalman to his death.

Charles Dickens, to simplify and yet, exaggerate the situation and setting of the story acts like a narrator himself, using first person and first person plural as his diction choice gives the reader a lot of information, especially because it seems as if he’s talking to the reader personally.

In this story the ghost is the evil of the supernatural world of ghosts and spirits rather than the evil in people’s hearts. Dickens, in effort to create tension and suspense succeeds to do so.

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