How is the signal-man killed, and what made this death disturbing, in Charles Dickens's story "The Signal-Man"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The signal man is killed as he is coming out of the tunnel holding a lamp with his back to an oncoming train. The driver says that he tried to attract the signal man's attention, first by using his whistle and then by shouting out, but the signal man didn't hear him, and the driver didn't have the time to stop. The narrator asks the driver what he shouted out and the driver tells him he shouted, "Below there! Look out! Look out! For God's sake clear the way!'" It is almost the same phrasing that the signal man had said the ghost had used six hours before a terrible accident had occurred a few years before. The tragic thing is that this time the ghost was foreseeing the death of the signal man.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ironically and tragically both, the signal-man is killed in the same manner as the man in his frightening vision, making his vision a ghostly premonition. That his premonition has been about himself is very disturbing.

Certainly, there is a Gothic setting to this disturbing story in which there is a tunnel

“ whose massive architecture there was a barbarous, depressing, and forbidding air....So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot, that it had an earthy, deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it...

From living such an isolated life, the signal-man's ghostly tale seems to be merely the imaginings of a man who lacks human company. Nevertheless, he repeatedly hears the bell and sees a specter near the Danger light. Tragically, despite the signal-man's cautionary and painstaking actions, he is "cut down" by a train, and it is, in fact, he who becomes the apparition that he has repeatedly seen.



See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team