The Element Of Fear: Dickens´ The Signalman And Wells´ Red Room

2097 words - 8 pages

Charles Dickens’ ‘The Signalman,’ and H.G Wells’ ‘Red Room’ are both short stories written to grip readers through the element of fear. Both tales were written near the end of the Victorian era, during Queen Victoria’s reign. Victorian Britain had a liking for literature, including short stories. Short stories were idyllic because they were a source of instant entertainment, the type required in technologically withdrawn times. People were also becoming increasingly interested in supernatural events such as mesmerism. These two short stories catered to the needs of the Victorians, which is probably why they were so popular. H.G Wells’ ‘Red Room’ was written in 1896. The story sees an overconfident ghost hunter trying to disprove the myth that the red room is haunted by spending a night there. Charles Dickens’ ‘The Signalman’ was written in 1866. The narrator of the story encounters a signalman who believes he has witnessed supernatural creatures, and identifies them as messengers of danger. Both stories feature skeptical men who encounter fear by the end of the short story. The element of fear is shown most explicitly by the speaker in the ‘Red Room,’ who is victimized by fear. The speaker in ‘the Signalman’ initially blames the unusual railway incidents on mere coincidence as opposed to paranormal activity but fails to find further explanations for the numerous incidents that occured. The signalman is the character who is consumed by fear, which leads him to his inevitable death. Both Charles Dickens and H.G Wels use darkness and shadows as a symbol of fear. They both use fireplaces, which cast shadows. The signalman is described as a ‘shadowed’ figure when the narrator first sees him. The tunnel is described as ‘black’. The castle which contains the red room is described as ‘shadowed.’ The darkness that shadows create seem threatening and mysterious. This is why darkness is a perfect symbol of fear as they are intimately connected. Darkness signifies the unknown. ‘Red Room’ is set in a castle which is a typical setting for a gothic horror story. The castle is abandoned due to the myth that the ‘red room’ is haunted. The whole house is described as dark, or rather, dimly lit. The narrator comments that there is an ‘undefinable quality of a presence, that odd suggestion of a lurking, living thing.’ The darkness suggests that there is a supernatural being lurking in the midst. The fireplace and candlelight allow shadows to torture the narrator and reinforce an unknown presence. The house if styled with old fashioned furniture. This emphasizes the gothic atmosphere and the fact that the castle is abandoned. A railway setting is used in ‘The Signalman.’ The signal man resides beside a railway tunnel. He is isolated from society, creating an uneasy feeling and suggesting the presence of the paranormal. Upon the narrator’s encounter with the signalman’s dwelling, he uses distasteful adjectives to describe the scene. He uses the...

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