Signal Man

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Charles Dickens

The Signalman by Charles Dickens deals with human fascination for the supernatural. The narrator, skeptic of the appearance of an apparition, constantly experiences shudders and chills but maintains an effort to explain the signalman’s dilemma in a logical manner; he tries to analyze the experience in a scientific way by contributing the appearance of the ghost to the signalman hallucinating under the pressure of a tedious job. From the very onset of the story, Dickens keeps dropping subtle hints of death or the tragedy hovering nearby. The atmosphere is murky and rife with dark shadows; the signalman’s post is way below the ground level where no sunlight penetrates, thus giving the place a cheerless and cold ambiance which is symbolic of a grave. The signalman’s unnaturally startled reaction at being addressed by the narrator is suggestive of an impending disaster. Philosophically the theme propounds fatalism; fate is unchangeable and destiny shapes ones future whether one is prepared or not. The signalman was greeted thrice by the specter; each greeting being a prophecy of an upcoming calamity and in all three instances the signalman acted as ineffectively as a puppet unable to avoid what he was warned of. Furthermore, man’s aversion to death only makes its acceptability difficult. It is ironic to observe that the signalman fears the specter as harbinger of a disaster which he perceives he has the power but not the knowledge to avoid, but in truth the specter warns the signalman to avoid the terrible accident and save his own life. The signalman has been portrayed as a man of high stature whose wisdom, knowledge and education are wasted in life as well as in death. ‘Educated above that station’, he lived a life, performing duties much below his educational standing and yet he had no complaints in life. His insight and perception also failed to save him from the merciless grip of Death. Thus the signalman who had guided...
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