What is the critical analysis of the signal-man in "The Signal-Man"?

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This is a critical analysis of "The Signal-Man" by Charles Dickens. It analyses the symbolism of the railway in the story and how this could be seen to be a critique on progress and technological advances.

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The mystery of the signalman's death lies in the character's diligence and his sensitivity as a "student of natural philosophy." In this story, Dickens employs details that stress the signalman's careful attention to his duty, his faithful adherence to routine, and his constant vigilance. After meeting the narrator, the signalman asks him to come to visit one night so that he can inform his guest of all the details so that together they can, perhaps, deduce how to solve the mystery of the voice that is heard.

Overriding all of these characteristics of the signalman, however, is  his extreme isolation and loneliness.  In fact, with no names given for either the signalman or the narrator, the characters are mitigated by the detailed descriptions of the area around the train tunnel with its "crooked prolongation" and "dripping-wet wall of jagged stone" as well as the details of the signalman's office with its fire, official entry book, a telegraphic instrument with its dial, face, and needles, and a little bell. 

And, thus, the Victorian conflict between the new technology, represented by the trains, and man takes place. For, there is something foreboding and sinister about the impervious machine that travels through the dark tunnel. In a sense, the train seems an adversary to the sensitive man. With the train's having disturbed nature with the carving of the tunnel as well as by the intrusion of the looming black machine, supernatural forces are set in motion, forces too strong for the signalman to overcome as they seek what may be retribution. 

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The mystery of the signalman's death lies in the character's diligence and his sensitivity as a "student of natural philosophy." In this story, Dickens employs details that stress the signalman's careful attention to his duty, his faithful adherence to routine, and his constant vigilance. After meeting the narrator, the signalman asks him to come to visit one night so that he can inform his guest of all the details so that together they can, perhaps, deduce how to solve the mystery of the voice that is heard.

Overriding all of these characteristics of the signalman, however, is  his extreme isolation and loneliness.  In fact, with no names given for either the signalman or the narrator, the characters are mitigated by the detailed descriptions of the area around the train tunnel with its "crooked prolongation" and "dripping-wet wall of jagged stone" as well as the details of the signalman's office with its fire, official entry book, a telegraphic instrument with its dial, face, and needles, and a little bell.

And, thus, the Victorian conflict between the new technology, represented by the trains, and man takes place. For, there is something foreboding and sinister about the impervious machine that travels through the dark tunnel. In a sense, the train seems an adversary to the sensitive man. With the train's having disturbed nature with the carving of the tunnel as well as by the intrusion of the looming black machine, supernatural forces are set in motion, forces too strong for the signalman to overcome as they seek what may be retribution.

Yet, somehow the preternatural world interferes, making the train impervious to the warnings.

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Give a critical analysis for "The Signal-Man."

Well, there are certainly many different aspects that you could focus on in this excellent short story by Dickens. One of them which I find rather interesting is the symbolism of the railway and how this is linked in with the themes of the story. Essentially the story concerns a phantom that warns or informs a helpless watcher of a fatal accident that is just about to happen or has already happened. In Victorian literature, the railway was a highly ambiguous symbol, as it symbolised fears about technological advances and how they could destroy traditional ways of living, exchanging close and personal connections with more impersonal mechanical procedures. We can see this anxiety in this short story by the way in which tragedies occur in spite of all of the mechanical means of ensuring safety. In spite of signal lights, telegraphs wires and safety lights, the signal-man is haunted by the fact that he is unable to stop the tragedies that occur.

Even though the signal-man is presented as being diligent and hardworking, not shirking in his duty in anyway, it is clear that this is not enough to prevent the tragedies from occurring, and it is this as well that makes him so upset and disturbed. Note how he himself says he used to be a "contended man" but that now he is "troubled" because of these happenings. In spite of the technological advances and mechanical safety systems, the train appears to possess an untamed energy that operates as it will in spite of the systems created by its inventors. Thus this story could be read as a critique on progress and technological advances, and how such progress can be dangerous.

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