The Signal-Man Summary

In "The Signal-Man," the narrator meets a railway signalman near the train tracks. Distressed, the signalman tells the narrator about the apparitions that he has seen on the tracks. One evening, the narrator returns to find that the signalman himself has been hit by a train.

  • The unnamed narrator meets the railway signalman while walking in the country one day. He learns that the signalman has seen a number of apparitions.

  • Each apparition has foretold doom. One takes the form of a man who says, "Look out!" just hours before a wreck. A second apparition foreshadows the death of another passenger.

  • One evening, the narrator himself sees an apparition while walking past the train tracks. He learns that the railway signalman was hit by a train that morning.

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Signal-Man” describes an eerie encounter between two men, the anonymous narrator of the story and a railway signalman. The signalman confides to the narrator that he has seen some disturbing sights that he believes are ghostly apparitions. The story reflects the narrator’s initial skepticism, which turns to horrified belief at the conclusion.

The story opens as the narrator is taking a walk in the country. He sees a signalman by the train track at the bottom of a steep cutting. He calls to the signalman, makes his way down a zigzag path to the track, and converses with him. The signalman is strangely fearful of the man, revealing that the man’s greeting reminded him of a disturbing supernatural apparition he has seen—and heard—at the mouth of a nearby tunnel. The narrator wonders briefly if the signalman himself is a spirit because of his strange manner.

The signalman invites the narrator to return and meet him at his signal box on the following night. At that time, the signalman tells his visitor more about the apparition. It took the form of a man who appeared in front of the tunnel waving desperately and crying, “Look out! Look out!” The signalman telegraphed warnings to other stations along the line but to no avail. Six hours later, a terrible train accident occurred. On another day, the figure reappeared and assumed an attitude of extreme grief. A few hours later, a woman died on one of the trains going by the...

(The entire section is 401 words.)