In "The Signalman," why is the signalman shocked when the narrator calls to him? 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the spellbinding ghost story of "The Signalman" in which Charles Dickens decries the ills of his Industrial Age such as isolation and dehumanization, the first person narrator appears inexplicably on a ridge high above a railroad track where a signalman's station is. "Hallow! Below there!" he calls out to the railroad worker. When the man finally turns and directs him, the narrator descends, reflecting upon the "singular air of reluctance or compulsion with which he had pointed out the path." When he arrives, he detects some fear in the signalman, so the narrator inquires as to the reason for his wariness.

"I was doubtful,...whether I had seen you before." And, he points to the red light at which he had looked searchingly."

After they converse for a while and the narrator gains the confidence of the railroad worker on a second visit, this man reveals that he was shocked by the narrator's appearance because the words that the narrator calls out to him--"Hallow! Below there!"--are the very same words that "a specter" called out the evening before although added to these words, also, is a more desperate warning, "For God's sake, clear the way!" and the man covers his eyes in fear, waving his arm in warning. The signalman is terrified because he imagines again that something must be approaching.

As it turns out, the poor signalman is justified in his terror at hearing the words "Hallow! Below there!" For, on his third visit, the narrator learns the tragic news of the signalman, whose sense has been that the words of the ghost that he saw are prophetic. Indeed, the signalman's fears have been justified. He is struck by a train and killed just as the engineer calls out the very words he has heard from the prescient specter and the narrator at the top of the ridge.

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