The Signal-Man Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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

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Maud Scarbrough eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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.

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mwestwood, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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.



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