Compare the ways that Dickens builds tension in The Signalman and The Black Veil

Essay by sumeetbanker April 2004

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Dickens main aim in these two stories is to create and maintain tension in order to entertain his reader. The techniques are very detailed when setting the scene, look at are the use of mood words when setting the scene, his depiction of mysterious characters, his choice of narrative style and his structure of both the stories.

The Signalman is a gothic short story where a railway signalman is haunted to a point where he is certain that a calamity will happen. Little does he know that this calamity is his death.

The Black Veil is a mystery story about a young doctor who gets a mysterious case from an equally mysterious woman. When he attends the house of the woman he finds that she has gone mad and is asking him to bring back to life he recently hung son.

The Signalman is a very vivid story in which Dickens uses the senses in describing the setting very effectively.

The fact that it is set in a railway cutting at the time would have immediately meant danger and had a sinister effect in the Victorian times as many people did not accept the new technology and thought that steam trains were man unnecessarily tampering with nature which could only lead to trouble.

The way that the cutting is described as being 'made through a clammy stone that became oozier and wetter as I went down' is a very clear tactile and thermal image which involves the reader, and so suspense is built. Added to this there is the fact that the signalman's hut is located right next to 'the gloomier entrance to a black tunnel.' This immediately creates fear and suspense in the reader due again to the powerful description. The railway cutting is also described as a 'great...