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The Narrator

There are only two main characters in Dickens's "The Signal-Man," and both are unnamed. About the narrator, indeed, very little is revealed at all, although we can infer from the way the signal-man treats him—he sometimes calls him "Sir"—that he is of the middle or professional class, the signal-man's social superior. We also know that the narrator is staying at an "inn," from which it can be assumed that he does not live in the area. When he meets the signal-man, the narrator observes that he himself was a man who "had been shut up within narrow limits" for most of his life and now felt able to take an interest in "great works" such as the railways. However, apart from this, the function of the narrator is simply to present the story of the signal-man himself, and it is not necessary to the story for him to reveal any more about his own circumstances or character.

The Signal-Man

The signal-man himself is the principal character in the story, as indicated by the title. The signal-man lives in his box by the railway line and is described as "sallow," with a "dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows." When the narrator first meets him, he notes that he seems somewhat agitated. After the narrator has lulled the signal-man into his confidence, the signal-man explains his duties: he changes the signal, trims the lights, and turns an iron handle from time to time but is otherwise afforded a lot of time to himself in the box. He has been using this time to teach himself a language, even attempt some algebra, and was well educated in his youth, having studied natural...

(The entire section is 428 words.)