What is the climax of "The Signal-Man" by Charles Dickens?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The climax, or the point of highest emotional intensity, in "The Signal-Man" by Charles Dickens is the narrator's horrified sense that the ghosts of which the signal-man has spoken to him have a reality apart from the individual imagination.

Dickens's ghost story is one that edges the Gothic. In the exposition of the story when the narrator happens upon the signal-man and calls to him, instead of looking up toward the sound, the strange man peers down the line of the railroad tracks. The narrator finds "something remarkable" in this behavior. And, indeed, the "remarkable" eventually happens in this narrative of Dickens.

Moreover, it is this "remarkable" behavior that is involved in the climax of the story. For, when the narrator, who has established a relationship with the lonely signal-man, returns in order to accompany the disturbed railroad employee to a doctor, he looks down from the same point at which he has first seen the signal-man and perceives a man imitating the exact gestures of his acquaintance's ghost. However, "the nameless horror" which the narrator feels soon passes when he realizes this man is real. Nevertheless, the narrator's emotions are again raised, and this time they approach the intensity of climax:

...with a flashing self-reproachful fear that fatal mischief had come of my leaving the man there, and causing no one to be sent to overlook or correct what he did....

the narrator descends and, horrified, he learns that the signal-man has been killed. His fears are confirmed as the narrator realizes that the ghosts have possessed a reality beyond the signal-man's imagination.

booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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[eNotes editors are only permitted to answer one question per posting. If you have additional questions, please post them separately.]

In Charles Dickens' short story, "The Signal-Man," the author paints a picture for his audience of a signal-man who works for the railroad. The narrator meets him by chance and they form a brief connection. The signal-man shares stories of horrible visions of death he has had before the events take place, but he is unable to do anything to prevent the tragedies, and this haunts him.

The narrator returns a last time to speak to the signal-maker. There are men gathered on the tracks, but the signal-man is not around. The narrator goes to the group and asks what has happened. He is informed that the signal-man has been killed by a train, but this is NOT the story's climax.

The men ask the driver of the train to explain to the narrator what occurred. The driver describes seeing the signal-man on the tracks, who seemed unaware of the approaching train. The driver waved his arm continuously, even while he covered his face so as not to see the signal-man's imminent death; this was the same vision the narrator had had before the signal-man died. THIS is the climax of the story.

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