Explain how fate is a theme in "The Signal-man" in no less than 3 ideas that support fate.

1 Answer | Add Yours

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

"The Signal-Man" by Charles Dickens reflects the anxiety that the Victorians felt about technological progress occurring during the Industrial Revolution.  In this story, tragedies occur in spite of the careful measures established to ensure safety, a fact that clearly suggests the interference of fate.  These technological communications as well as the assiduousness of the signalman are ineffective against the fateful power of the train that seems to possess an untamed power of a preternatural nature.

Here are some illustrations of the impervious power of the fateful train that overrides the strategies of the people who try to control this technological monster:

1. The signalman, upon hearing the narrator's call to him, mistakes the narrator for someone else since the narrator has somehow spoken the exact same words as those which were spoken prior to a tragic incident. The signalman explains,

One moonlight night...when I heard a voice cry, 'Halloa!  Below there!  Look out!...I advanced so close upon [the figure who spoke these words] that I wondered at its keeping the sleeve across its eyes.  I ran right up at it, and hand my hand stretched out to pull the sleeve away, when it was gone."

This apparition has presaged the fateful ending of the signalman.  Despite the warning to look out, a terrible train wreck has occurred.  Upon hearing this report, the narrator suggests that the words were communicated to the signalman in "a supernatural way."  The signalman is disturbed by the inexplicable repeated messages he hears:

"Why not tell me where that accident was to happen,--if it must happen?  Why not tell me how it could be averted,--if it could be averted?...And I, Lord help me!  A mere poor signal-man on this solitary station!  Why not go to somebody with credit to be believed, and power to act?"

2.  Fate seems a much stronger force that the two men who are isolated.  The signalman is

...remarkably exact and vigilant, breaking off his   discourse at a syllable, and remaining silent until what he had to do was done.

Yet, despite his careful attention to all the safety measures, the signalman becomes doubtful as he hears warnings when no one is around.  And, in his isolated state of "feverish distress," with the narrator away at the time, the fated signalman is killed by the relentless and uncontrollable power of the train.

3. The railroad company has installed safety devices such as the telegraph signals, red lights, flags, and bells.  Conscientiously, the signalman ensures that all these devices operate.  However, despite the tecnical safety devices and spiritual warnings that the signalman conscientiously checks, the inexorable fate of the accident occurs.

We’ve answered 317,377 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question