How do I analyze how the Gothic has been used in the paragraph below from Dickens's "The Signal-Man" in regard to imagery and symbolism?From "The Signal-Man" by Dickens: I resumed my downward way,...

How do I analyze how the Gothic has been used in the paragraph below from Dickens's "The Signal-Man" in regard to imagery and symbolism?

From "The Signal-Man" by Dickens:

I resumed my downward way, and stepping out upon the level of the railroad, and drawing nearer to him, saw that he was a dark sallow man, with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows. His post was in as solitary and dismal a place as ever I saw. On either side, a dripping-wet wall of jagged stone, excluding all view but a strip of sky; the perspective one way only a crooked prolongation of this great dungeon; the shorter perspective in the other direction terminating in a gloomy red light, and the gloomier entrance to a black tunnel, in 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, that it struck chill to me, as if I had left the natural world.

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, start with defining the characteristics of Gothic so you know the way to go in your analysis. Gothic characteristics can quickly be defined as including dismal and eerie locations; mysterious seeming or looking people or places; death; the supernatural; places of confinement; castles or old buildings, often in some degree of ruin; spirits and ghosts; darkness, sometimes noted in reverse language as the absence of light.

Second, note the imagery and symbolism Dickens creates in the passage. We immediately note an image of descent down into something eerie and threatening. The image continues with a seemingly reluctant "drawing near to" the signal-man. The image of hesitancy and reluctance is accomplished by the three fragment phrases telling of a "downward way," a "stepping out upon," and the "drawing near to." Similar imagery dots the rest of the paragraph: "dark beard"; heavy eyebrows"; "dismal place"; "jagged stone"; "excluding sky"; "black tunnel"; "forbidding air"; "So little sunlight"; "left the natural world" are just some of the key phrases that produce Dickens's imagery. Some symbolism is contained in these phrases as well. For instance, "downward way" and "black tunnel" may symbolize a descent into hell, while "barbarous, depressing, and forbidding air" may symbolize the environs of earth-roaming spirits or ghosts.

Finally, analyze how the imagery and symbolism you have identified does or does not fit in with the characteristics of the Gothic tradition. For instance, the imagery perfectly fits with the characteristics of confinement and darkness. The signal-man is set apart and isolated--confined--by the "jagged stone" of a metaphorical "great dungeon"; doubt of Gothic elements is eliminated by the metaphorical association of the setting with an imprisoning "dungeon." Another instance is that the symbolism mentioned above draws a clear association of the setting and thus, by inference, the signal-man, with the supernatural  symbols for a descent into hell and for spirits and ghosts.