Atmosphere in Charles Dickens' The Signalman
'The Signal-man' is a ghostly thriller by Charles Dickens. Based on an
apparently hallucinating signal-man and the tales of his
hallucinations, the story is seen through the eyes of the narrator, a
man told of the signal-mans troubles during conversations with the
signal-man himself. From the beginning of the story, the atmosphere is
both eerie and gloomy.
To produce this type of atmosphere, Dickens had to draw on several
different aspects of English literature-mostly through description and
use of language. The setting is described meticulously, producing
vivid images in the mind of the reader. For example, when the narrator
and the signal-man first encounter each other, the strange, mysterious
atmosphere is set already.
"â€¦his figure wasâ€¦down in the deep trench, and mine was high above him,
so steeped in the glow of an angry sunsetâ€¦"
This indicates that their first meeting is at the onset of night.
Also, the signal-mans station is very low down, making it quite
difficult to contact him.
The narrator later asks the signal-man if he can "come down and
speak". The signal-man points out a path described thus:
"The cutting was extremely deep, and unusually precipitate. Itâ€¦ became
oozier and wetter as I went down."
But this description is a mere hint of the stories tone in comparison
to the delineation of the signal-mans station. From this depiction,
the reader can easily visualise the setting.
"â€¦this great dungeonâ€¦terminating in a gloomy red light and a gloomier
entrance to a black tunnelâ€¦there was a barbarous, depressing and
forbidding air. So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot
that it had an earthy, dead smellâ€¦as if I had left the natural world."
A scary, haunting scene is produced. Almost the entire story takes
place in this setting, so the atmosphere is almost permanently tense
From there on, the story is mainly following a conversation between
the narrator and the signal-man. During their dialogue, there are
quite a few references to a fire in the 'cabin', which indicates that
it is quite dark. When their talk is over, they decide to meet again
at eleven the next night.
When the characters get to talking about the signal-mans first
encounter with the 'spectre', the signal-man describes the setting of
this experience fearfully.
"I stopped and held my lamp above my headâ€¦and saw the wet stains
stealing down the walls and trickling through the arch. I ran out
again, faster than I had run in (for I had a mortal abhorrence of the
place upon me)â€¦"
This quotation conveys the signal-mans feelings of fear and anxiety
Later on, when the men look for the spectre at the tunnel,
significance is put upon the mouth of the tunnel in a way that makes