â€œâ€¦but there is a fashion in ghosts as in other thingsâ€¦If you study the reports of societies
that hunt the supernatural, you will find that the latest thing in ghosts in very quiet and
common place. Rattling chains and blue lights, and even fancy dress, have quite gone
out. And the people who see the ghosts are not even startled at first sight; they think it is
a visitor, or a man come to wind the clocks. In fact, the chic thing for a ghost in these
days is to be mistaken for a living person.â€
Lanoe Falconer, Cecilia de NoÃ«l
To admit to believing in ghosts has been, for centuries, considered something of
an intellectual indiscretion.The 19th century was a time when religious belief was almost universal and extended to all sorts of additional beliefs in fate, the supernatural, ghosts and monsters. It was during this era that many writers began to capture readersâ€™ curiosity about death, vengeance, trickery, imprisonment, hanging, ghosts and fear. Stories, which include supernatural events, were undoubtedly as popular in the Victorian times as they are today. People of that time had religions, like we do now, they believed in heaven and hell, and all unexplainable things like ghosts or other sightings, they considered as the Devils products. During Victorian times railways were quite a new invention. People saw trains as huge ogres, because most people did not know much about trains. However, today people do not believe anymore in stories like this. Such stories are called stories for little children. Most people do not believe in things which are not scientifically proved. Still we have not lost our interest in the supernatural. A lot of other writers started writing books, on the idea of the ones from the 19th century. A big part of literature is based on this genres, like horrors, or science-fiction. And people are reading it to entertain themselves, and not to believe in them.
The story â€œThe Signalmanâ€ by Charles Dickens has the supernatural as its main theme. It was written in 1865 and was based on a signalman who worked with the steam trains. It starts with a combination of posing a puzzle and plunging into the action as it begins with speech from an unknown character. The story progresses to reveal the train worker who works all the time in a â€œdeep trenchâ€ by the mouth of a tunnel, where the sun never shines, whoâ€™s task consists of keeping a logbook, making signals to the passing trains and sending messages by telegraph from time to time.â€˜Halloa! Below there!â€™ … This small expression at the very beginning brings the atmosphere of alarm, fear and intrigue. These words continue to arouse the same emotions through appearing in the story again and again. This is a really effective way to use warnings to bring worries. In the story there are many examples of descriptive writing and literary devices to evoke an appropriate atmosphere and mood. â€œHe was cut down by an engineâ€. If this sentence was said today this is what would be said â€˜He was hit by the engine!â€™ Dickensâ€™s expressions are more horrifying and give us a real image of death. This is very tragic for the audience as they may think other deaths may occur and this may get the mind thinking on who is next to die if there was someone. Also in â€˜The Signalmanâ€™ Dickens describes body language in detail. As a result even unusual things and behavior of his characters become very natural and obvious. Dickens uses imagery as a real artist. For example he portrays the sun as an enemy by writing: â€˜So steeped in the glow of an angry sunset.â€™ The use of the word â€˜angryâ€™ suggests the sun is against the travelling man and does not want him to go any further. He uses alliteration to vividly describe an oncoming train â€˜Just then, there came a vague vibration in the earth and air, quickly changing into a violent pulsation.â€™This quote also creates images of danger and is a good example of how Dickens uses peopleâ€™s fear of new technologies.
As for the characters, there are two of them in the story. The Narrator is curious and sympathising, observant and very natural in his words and acts. What the Narrator does is tell the audience what is happening. Charles Dickens creates a relationship between the reader and the Narrator. Another role of the Narrator is to create atmosphere and suspense in the story. Mainly his use of adjectives creates this such as damp air, violent pulsation, shadowed or barbarous. From the very beginning of the story we can understand what a strange person the signalman is. It was a good idea to start the story with a speech as it helped the author to create a mysterious background for further actions. It also makes readers wonder about the reason for the signalmanâ€™s strange behaviour. The Signalmanâ€™s actions are very strange like when he constantly keeps staring at the gloomy red light. Another action, which is strange about the Signalman, is that he constantly hears the bell ringing even when it isnâ€™t. A railway cutting with a â€œgloomy, depressingâ€ tunnel seams to be a description of a signalman himself. Phrases like â€œForbidding airâ€ and â€œleft the natural worldâ€ gives the impression that it is like a grave, a forbidden place to be in, very dark and gloomy. And this man has to stay there all the time of his life and this environment seems to reflect his character. â€œHe was a dark sallow man, with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrowsâ€. Even his language has deteriorated from lack of communica-tion. Dickens serially uses both characters to display the reflections of their images in each other. As well as many other writers of that time Dickens uses the supernatural to open characters differently to make them mysterious but close to real people, to allocate them with qualities and traits which would allow to see literary heroes as slightly curve mirrors of the reality.
â€˜The signalmanâ€™ has a clever and very final ending. The traveller returns to find the signalman dead, he had been knocked down by a train after the driver had attempted to warn him by making the same hand gestures as the spectre. The signalman had been so scared by what he thought was the spectre he could not avoid the oncoming train. That is another good and final example of sensual intrigue typical for ghost sto-ries. When everyone is expecting the story to discover the truth, Dickens uses final twist with sudden death of the signalman. The story maintains a mystery at the end, and makes the readers think a lot about the details of the text.