The Signal-Man Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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How does Charles Dickens use linguistic and literary techniques to create impact and engage the reader in "The Signal-Man"?

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Dickens uses a range of literary and linguistic techniques in his short story, "The Signal-Man." For example, in the opening paragraph, he uses personification when he describes "the glow of an angry sunset." Personifying the sun as "angry" helps to engage the reader because it suggests a menacing, ominous atmosphere. Setting the opening of the story at "sunset" is also impactful because it suggests darkness, emphasizing the aforementioned ominous atmosphere.

A little later in the story, Dickens uses a semantic field of language to further emphasize this ominous atmosphere. A semantic field is a group of words which all connote broadly the same idea or mood. For example, Dickens describes the setting as "gloomy," "black," barbarous, depressing and forbidding."

Later on in the story, describing the signal-man's supernatural experience, Dickens uses a quick succession of rhetorical questions and exclamatory sentences. The signal-man says that he heard the supernatural figure exclaim, "Look out! Look out!" The signal-man then says that he responded by asking, "What's wrong? What has happened? Where?" In the one paragraph from which these quotations are taken, there are in total seven exclamatory sentences and three rhetorical questions. The combined effect is to suggest the signal-man's confusion and terror, which in turn engages the readers by helping them to empathize with the signal-man.

Throughout the story Dickens also uses repetition and symbolism. He repeatedly describes the image of the "red light" by the entrance to the tunnel. This red light symbolizes danger and foreshadows the danger that the signal-man encounters at the end of the story.

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