The Signal-Man Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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What is the plot and conflict in the signalman

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"The Signal-Man" is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator. As the story opens, he catches sight of a lone single-man, calls out to him, and as the two become better acquainted with one another, he begins to perceive that the signalman is displaying signs of some kind of emotional disturbance. He will later return, and the signalman tells him his story.

The signalman confesses to being haunted. He has observed apparitions, the appearances of which foretell later tragedies. The ghost's first appearance heralds a train crash. Later, it would return, and on that same day, a young woman would die on one of the trains passing by. In the past week, the ghost had come back, and the signalman is convinced that its reappearance means another tragedy will soon occur.

In the end, it is revealed that the ghost was heralding the signalman's own death, as the narrator learns when he finds out that the single-man had been struck and killed by one of the trains.

Conflict-wise, this story is a combination of man versus self and man versus nature (though, here, we must recognize that, by nature, we really mean the supernatural aspects present within this world as Dickens presents it). The signalman has found himself confronted with forces which elude rational comprehension without any explanation or frame of reference to understand why they have chosen him or what they are attempting to accomplish. He lives in a world that would reject supernatural explanations, and yet in his own life, he is confronted with a reality that can only be explained by an appeal to the supernatural. His entire story is unbelievable (something which he is well aware of).

This is where the conflict is internalized; however, because even as he recognizes and is well aware of how unbelievable his story is, the fact remains that the apparitions exist as heralds to disaster. He knows that some tragedy is soon to unfold, and he knows that only he possesses any forewarning of it. However, this puts him in a conundrum, because morally speaking, he ought to do something to try to prevent it, but he has no idea how he could even begin to proceed, given how impossible his story would seem to anyone who might listen.

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