We learn quite a bit about the signalman, not only from the narrator's perspective but also from what he divulges about himself. At the beginning of the story, the signalman seems to be keenly aware of his surroundings and has a particular interest in the speaker. We know this from...
We learn quite a bit about the signalman, not only from the narrator's perspective but also from what he divulges about himself. At the beginning of the story, the signalman seems to be keenly aware of his surroundings and has a particular interest in the speaker. We know this from the manner in which the narrator describes the signalman's initial reaction to him. He states that the signalman's response to his shout was "remarkable," that "he seemed to regard me with fixed attention" and, furthermore, that "His attitude was one of such expectation and watchfulness that I stopped a moment, wondering at it."
We learn from the narrator that the signalman is particularly meticulous about his job and, therefore, "one of the safest of men to be employed in that capacity." We also discover that he is intelligent, for he has been developing a language to ease his loneliness. He is also loyal to his post and performs all the tasks, however mundane, required of him. Furthermore, he confesses that he lacks mathematical ability and states that he had been studious as a young man. He mentions, though, that he had lost his way and "gone down." He could not regain himself and lost out. It is apparent, however, that he is not too regretful of the mistakes he had made for he accedes that "He had made his bed, and he lay upon it."
The reason for the signalman's primary unnerving attitude is revealed later. It becomes apparent that he possesses supernatural ability. He is aware of a spirit in his area of work, and he has the ability through the apparition to predict disaster or tragedy. He tells the narrator that the presence had twice warned him about impending misfortune. In both instances, the signalman could not prevent the unfortunate events because, in the first place, he did not know what to make of the ghost's warning and, in the second, a woman had died in a carriage even though he was able to stop the train.
The signalman is obviously unhappy about his current situation and tells the narrator that the spirit has manifested again. He has been overwhelmed by its constant appearance but does not know what to make of it. The narrator is acutely aware of his distress and offers to help the poor man. Unfortunately, upon his return, he discovers that the signalman was hit by a train and died. It becomes ironically apparent that the poor soul had predicted his demise.