What literary devices does Dickens use in "The Signal-Man"?

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Charles Dickens makes effective use of literary devices to generate a mood of uncertainty and a disturbing sense of dislocation, loneliness, and even powerlessness.

Using visual imagery and personification, Dickens describes the narrator's first sight of the signal-man. The narrator remarks from his vantage point that, as he looks below, the signal-man seems "foreshortened and shadowed." He is high above this man, standing in the "glow of an angry sunset." This attribution of human qualities to the sunset initiates the sense of preternatural powers in this setting.

As the narrator descends to meet the signal-man, he reflects upon the man's "air of reluctance or compulsion with which he had pointed out the path. . . . His attitude was one of such expectation and watchfulness. (This is a particularly poignant example of mood.)

When he arrives at the level of the signal-man, the narrator encounters the "dark sallow man" (visual imagery), and he notices what a dismal place the man's post is.

On either side, a dripping-wet wall (visual and aural imagery) of jagged stone, excluding all view but a strip of sky; the perspective one way only a crooked prolongation of this great dungeon(visual imagery). . . .  This was a lonesome post.

Further, the tunnel is described as having a "dismal mouth" (personification).

This imagery, as well as Dickens's diction ("crooked prolongation," "dungeon," and "lonesome"), creates an atmosphere/mood of gloom. 

In addition, the mood of powerlessness is developed bt the signal-man's description of the ghost that he sees:

"For God's sake, clear the way. . . . Below there! Look out!" It stands waving to me. It rings my little bell." 

This vision also acts as foreshadowing of future events in the narrative. The signal-man's presentiment, coupled with his helplessness against preventing anything, points to the powerlessness of man against technological progress, as symbolized by the train.

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In "The Signal-Man," Dickens uses a number of literary devices to emphasise his key themes and to build suspense as the story develops. 

To illustrate this, look at how Dickens uses point of view. From the title, we might expect the story to be told from the signalman's perspective. But, in fact, the story is told from the perspective of a male visitor. Everything we learn about the signalman, we learn from this visitor's point of view. By doing this, Dickens transforms the signalman into a mysterious character, therefore building suspense as the story develops.

Similarly, Dickens uses language to heighten the signalman's sense of mystery. Imagery transforms his environment, the signal box, into a mysterious and other-worldly sort of place. This is created with words like "trench," "dungeon" and "gloomy." In this "oozier" and "wetter" place, the narrator feels as though he has left the "natural world," and this is very effective in creating a sense of mystery. 

In addition, Dickens uses foreshadowing to create suspense in the story. One of the best examples of this comes on the first page when the narrator says:

Just then there came a vague vibration in the earth and air, quickly changing into a violent pulsation, and an oncoming rush that caused me to start back, as though it had force to draw me down.

This may appear like nothing more than a description of a passing train but its position in the text suggests that something important and momentous is about to happen. As we later learn, this first meeting between the narrator and the signalman is indeed significant: it represents the beginning of the signalman's demise. 

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What techniques does Dickens use in the short story "The Signal-Man"?

In "The Signal-Man," Dickens uses several innovative techniques to dramatize and emphasize his theme of isolation in a modernized, technological world. First, the speaker and listener at the opening of the story are not identified and don't come in contact with each other for quite a while, in fact, only after the speaker/narrator travels a zigzag path with strange perspective and each suspects the other of being a spirit instead of a human do they come into contact. In dramatic contrast to this, Dickens has the train come into the narrative with thundering force, which almost takes the speaker in the train's wake.

Other techniques Dickens uses are short urgent lines of dialogue that convey a sense of building momentum in the course of the story and is reminiscent of the trains inexorable approach. Dickens also adds ghosts to a modern technologically founded story thus innovatively combining Gothic elements with modern to show how technology produces tragedies that evade human control just as surely as ghostly tragedies remove events from human control.

[For more, read The Signal-Man (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition).]

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How does Charles Dickens use linguistic and literary techniques to create impact and engage the reader in "The Signal-Man"?

Dickens uses a range of literary and linguistic techniques in his short story, "The Signal-Man." For example, in the opening paragraph, he uses personification when he describes "the glow of an angry sunset." Personifying the sun as "angry" helps to engage the reader because it suggests a menacing, ominous atmosphere. Setting the opening of the story at "sunset" is also impactful because it suggests darkness, emphasizing the aforementioned ominous atmosphere.

A little later in the story, Dickens uses a semantic field of language to further emphasize this ominous atmosphere. A semantic field is a group of words which all connote broadly the same idea or mood. For example, Dickens describes the setting as "gloomy," "black," barbarous, depressing and forbidding."

Later on in the story, describing the signal-man's supernatural experience, Dickens uses a quick succession of rhetorical questions and exclamatory sentences. The signal-man says that he heard the supernatural figure exclaim, "Look out! Look out!" The signal-man then says that he responded by asking, "What's wrong? What has happened? Where?" In the one paragraph from which these quotations are taken, there are in total seven exclamatory sentences and three rhetorical questions. The combined effect is to suggest the signal-man's confusion and terror, which in turn engages the readers by helping them to empathize with the signal-man.

Throughout the story Dickens also uses repetition and symbolism. He repeatedly describes the image of the "red light" by the entrance to the tunnel. This red light symbolizes danger and foreshadows the danger that the signal-man encounters at the end of the story.

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