What do we learn about the background and education of the signalman? Why are these important?
It is during their first meeting that the signalman reveals his background and education to the narrator. As a young man, for example, the signalman had ample opportunity to improve his life: he was a student of "natural philosophy" and "attended lectures," but he did not see his education through to completion. Instead, he chose to "run wild" and squandered these chances. This is how he came to his current profession, and he seems content with the choices he has made:
"He had no complaint to offer about that. He had made his bed, and he lay upon it."
While these details may seem irrelevant, they are important in validating the signalman's tale of events. Once we realise that the signalman is relatively well-educated, for instance, it makes it more difficult to dismiss his supernatural tale as a fabrication or a trick of the mind, as the narrator first suspects. This is effective in creating a mysterious and tense mood, as the reader realises that the ghost might indeed be real.
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