Essay by Berny854University, Master'sA, November 2014

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The signalman


'The Signal-Man' (1866) is a short story by the English writer Charles Dickens (1812 - 1870). In the story, the narrator meets a railway worker who has been seeing supernatural visions. The narrator doubts the man at first, but at the story's conclusion a strange event makes him a believer.

Plot summary:

The story begins with the narrator calling "Halloa! Below there!" into a railway cutting. The signalman standing on the railway below does not look up, as the narrator expects, but rather stares into the railway tunnel that is his responsibility to monitor. The narrator calls down again and asks permission to descend. The signalman seems reluctant.

The railway hole is a cold, gloomy and lonely place. The signalman still seems to be in fear of the narrator, who tries to put him at ease. The signalman feels that he has seen the narrator before, but the narrator assures him that this is impossible.

Reassured, the signalman welcomes the newcomer into his little cabin and the two men speak of the signalman's work. His labour consists of a dull, monotonous routine, but the signalman feels he deserves nothing better, as he wasted his academic opportunities when he was young. The narrator describes that the signalman seems like a dutiful employee at all times except when he twice looks at his signal bell when it is not ringing. There seems to be something troubling the signalman, but he will not speak of it. Before the narrator leaves, the signalman asks of him not to call for him when he's back on the top of the hill or when he sees him the following day.

On the second visit, the signalman tells the main character the reason he didn't want him to wave or...