How does Dickens use literary devices in "The Signal-Man"?

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Charles Dickens makes effective use of literary devices to generate a mood of uncertainty and a disturbing sense of dislocation, loneliness, and even powerlessness.

Using visual imagery and personification , Dickens describes the narrator's first sight of the signal-man. The narrator remarks from his vantage point that, as he looks...

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Charles Dickens makes effective use of literary devices to generate a mood of uncertainty and a disturbing sense of dislocation, loneliness, and even powerlessness.

Using visual imagery and personification, Dickens describes the narrator's first sight of the signal-man. The narrator remarks from his vantage point that, as he looks below, the signal-man seems "foreshortened and shadowed." He is high above this man, standing in the "glow of an angry sunset." This attribution of human qualities to the sunset initiates the sense of preternatural powers in this setting.

As the narrator descends to meet the signal-man, he reflects upon the man's "air of reluctance or compulsion with which he had pointed out the path. . . . His attitude was one of such expectation and watchfulness. (This is a particularly poignant example of mood.)

When he arrives at the level of the signal-man, the narrator encounters the "dark sallow man" (visual imagery), and he notices what a dismal place the man's post is.

On either side, a dripping-wet wall (visual and aural imagery) of jagged stone, excluding all view but a strip of sky; the perspective one way only a crooked prolongation of this great dungeon(visual imagery). . . .  This was a lonesome post.

Further, the tunnel is described as having a "dismal mouth" (personification).

This imagery, as well as Dickens's diction ("crooked prolongation," "dungeon," and "lonesome"), creates an atmosphere/mood of gloom. 

In addition, the mood of powerlessness is developed bt the signal-man's description of the ghost that he sees:

"For God's sake, clear the way. . . . Below there! Look out!" It stands waving to me. It rings my little bell." 

This vision also acts as foreshadowing of future events in the narrative. The signal-man's presentiment, coupled with his helplessness against preventing anything, points to the powerlessness of man against technological progress, as symbolized by the train.

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In "The Signal-Man," Dickens uses a number of literary devices to emphasise his key themes and to build suspense as the story develops. 

To illustrate this, look at how Dickens uses point of view. From the title, we might expect the story to be told from the signalman's perspective. But, in fact, the story is told from the perspective of a male visitor. Everything we learn about the signalman, we learn from this visitor's point of view. By doing this, Dickens transforms the signalman into a mysterious character, therefore building suspense as the story develops.

Similarly, Dickens uses language to heighten the signalman's sense of mystery. Imagery transforms his environment, the signal box, into a mysterious and other-worldly sort of place. This is created with words like "trench," "dungeon" and "gloomy." In this "oozier" and "wetter" place, the narrator feels as though he has left the "natural world," and this is very effective in creating a sense of mystery. 

In addition, Dickens uses foreshadowing to create suspense in the story. One of the best examples of this comes on the first page when the narrator says:

Just then there came a vague vibration in the earth and air, quickly changing into a violent pulsation, and an oncoming rush that caused me to start back, as though it had force to draw me down.

This may appear like nothing more than a description of a passing train but its position in the text suggests that something important and momentous is about to happen. As we later learn, this first meeting between the narrator and the signalman is indeed significant: it represents the beginning of the signalman's demise. 

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