What elements in it make "The Signalman" a good Gothic story?What are elements in it that are gothic in nature?

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Some elements of Gothic literature are:

  • Element of suspense and mystery
  • Omens
  • Supernatural events
  • Lots of emotion

All of these are present in this short story.

The suspense is provided by the overall plot of the story.  Why are these mysterious warnings happening?  What will happen next because of them?

Omens and supernatural events are also quite obvious in this story.  All of the beings that warn of disasters are clearly supernatural.

Finally, this is a very emotional story.  The signalman's dilemma is terrible -- he keeps knowing disasters will happen, but he can't stop them.  In addition, his ultimate fate is pretty emotional as well -- killed trying to prevent a disaster.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

This "ghost story" of Charles Dickens has many of the elements of the Gothic tale:

  1. An atmosphere of mystery and suspense
  2. Fear and panic, enhanced by an unknown feeling of threats 
  3. Ominous happenings, visions, portentous events
  4. Inexplicable or supernatural events,
  5. High emotion; characters overcome by terror; a feeling of impending doom

1. (Atmosphere)The isolated locations of the train tunnel, a "lonesome place," with its "crooked prolongation" and "dripping-wet wall of jagged stone" and the unnamed protagonist and narrator create mystery. In addition, there is the signalman's strange and mysterious apparition that he has seen, and the narrator's first impression that the signalman himself is "an apparition."

2. (Fear) The signalman is initially fearful of the narrator because his greeting reminds him of a disturbing apparition that he has seen and the oddly similar words spoken by this apparition at the mouth of the train tunnel. Later, as he becomes acquainted with the narrator, he recounts his bizarre visions and fear of some calamity.

3. (Vision) The signalman tells the narrator of a vision which he has seen a strange man with his left arm across his face, and the right arm is being waved violently. "The ghost's ring is a strange vibration in the bell that it derives from nothing else..." Clearly, he is greatly disturbed by what the movements must mean, and he wonders why the narrator has oddly repeated the same calls and movements. 

4. (Inexplicable and supernatural events) One day the signalman sees a mysterious person wave, then he hears terrible screams, and later a pretty young woman dies mysteriously. Also, he hears his bell ring for no explainable reason.

5. (high emotion; terror; fear of impending doom) The signalman fears his vision:

"Where is the danger? ...Some dreadful calamity will happen. It is not to be doubted this third time, after what has gone before. But surely this is a cruel haunting of me. What can I do?"

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