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The Signalman

by Charles Dickens

Annotating a text
Annotate and colour code / underline the text. Look for:

language techniques such as imagery, alliteration, repetition

words which have powerful connotations
typical ghost story conventions
words to build suspense / fear
words associated with hell or a grave / tomb
descriptions of trains to frighten a Victorian reader
how Dickens has created a powerful setting using pathetic fallacy
words that make the signalman sound mysterious
"Is there any path by which I can come down and speak to you?"
He looked up at me without replying, and I looked down at him without pressing him too
soon with a repetition of my idle question. 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. When such vapour as rose to my height from this
rapid train had passed me, and was skimming away over the landscape, I looked down again,
and saw him refurling the flag he had shown while the train went by.
I repeated my inquiry. After a pause, during which he seemed to regard me with fixed
attention, he motioned with his rolled-up flag towards a point on my level, some two or three
hundred yards distant. I called down to him, "All right!" and made for that point. There, by dint of
looking closely about me, I found a rough zigzag descending path notched out, which I followed.
The cutting was extremely deep, and unusually precipitate. It was made through a clammy
stone, that became oozier and wetter as I went down. For these reasons, I found the way long
enough to give me time to recall a singular air of reluctance or compulsion with which he had
pointed out the path.
When I came down low enough upon the zigzag descent to see him again, I saw that he
was standing between the rails on the way by which the train had lately passed, in an attitude
as if he were waiting for me to appear. He had his left hand at his chin, and that left elbow
rested on his right hand, crossed over his breast. His attitude was one of such expectation and
watchfulness that I stopped a moment, wondering at it.
I resumed my downward way, and stepping out upon the level of the railroad, and drawing
nearer to him, saw that he was a dark sallow man, with a dark beard and rather heavy
eyebrows. His post was in as solitary and dismal a place as ever I saw. On either side, a
dripping-wet wall of jagged stone, excluding all view but a strip of sky; the perspective one way
only a crooked prolongation of this great dungeon; the shorter perspective in the other direction
terminating in a gloomy red light, and the gloomier entrance to a black tunnel, in whose massive
architecture there was a barbarous, depressing, and forbidding air. So little sunlight ever found
its way to this spot, that it had an earthy, deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it,
that it struck chill to me, as if I had left the natural world.
Before he stirred, I was near enough to him to have touched him. Not even then removing
his eyes from mine, he stepped back one step, and lifted his hand.
This was a lonesome post to occupy (I said), and it had riveted my attention when I looked
down from up yonder. A visitor was a rarity, I should suppose; not an unwelcome rarity, I
hoped? In me, he merely saw a man who had been shut up within narrow limits all his life, and
who, being at last set free, had a newly-awakened interest in these great works. To such
purpose I spoke to him; but I am far from sure of the terms I used; for, besides that I am not
happy in opening any conversation, there was something in the man that daunted me.
He directed a most curious look towards the red light near the tunnel's mouth, and looked
all about it, as if something were missing from it, and then looked at me.


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The Signalman
by Charles Dickens
Name: .

Literature Coursework: Prose

Title: How does Charles Dickens use the ghost story genre to provoke fear in both the Victorian
and modern reader of The Signalman?
Develop a personal approach to a challenging text
Show understanding of social, cultural, historical and literary influences
Draw conclusions confidently from the writers use of language, structure and form
Express a critical view
Sustain perceptive and convincing critical responses with some evidence of original thought
Use quotations as evidence

Can Do:
Identify some aspects of cultural and social setting
Use reference to style and features of language
Write about important features like characterisation
Write coherently about the meaning of a story
Use quotation and detailed reference to sustain views
Comment on the ways in which the writer uses setting
Comment on the importance of the social and cultural background
Use well selected reference and quotation to illustrate and explain a
range of views
Begin to analyse features of a story
Develop view points about meaning and effectiveness
Show awareness / knowledge of the social and historical background
and its influence on a text
Analyse aspects of a challenging text
Develop a personal response, considering alternative meanings and
Use detailed reference consistently
Show how understanding of social, cultural, historical and literary
influences enhanced appreciation
Give a personal response to a text as a whole
Develop a critical response too
Consider alternative meanings and interpretations
Integrate knowledge of social, cultural and historical background

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The Signalman
by Charles Dickens

The narrator meets the signalman for the second time
Use full sentences and quotations where appropriate.
1. Why do you think the signalman carries a white light? Could it be
2. The narrator goes to see the signalman at night. Why is this significant to the
plot and genre?
3. Who or what had the signalman mistaken the narrator for? Why is this ironic?
4. In your own words, describe what happened to the signalman one moonlight night.
5. How does Dickens make the tunnel sound ghostly?
6. What effect does Dickens want to create when he uses the description, the slow
touch of a frozen finger tracing out my spine?
7. What does the narrator think is wrong with the signalman initially?
8. How does Dickens use imagery to describe the wind?
9. What is the link between the ghost and the accident? What do you think it means?
10. How does the narrator explain away this link?
11. What action did the spectre make when it appeared a second time?
12. What did the signalman find on the train that he stopped?
13. According to the signalman, what does the spectre keep doing on its third
14. What is the narrators attitude towards the signalmans account of the three hauntings?
Use a quotation.
15. What is the signalmans attitude towards the hauntings and the spectre? Use a


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The Signalman
by Charles Dickens

Mindmap: Preparation for Coursework

Decide which statements are true and write them on your A3 paper.
Next to each statement write down a quotation to prove the
statement is true and add notes concerning connotations / ideas /
techniques used by Dickens etc.

The writer uses an omniscient third person narrator.

Dickens employs a first person narrator to shape our reactions and thoughts.

The story is of the science fiction genre.

The story is pre-1914 and uses different vocabulary, sentence lengths and structure.

The story uses a typical, traditional ghost story setting.

The story reflects a suspicion of industrialisation in Victorian times.

The narrators first meeting with the signalman uses irony.

The writer uses the traditional ghost genre to reflect the fears of the Victorian age.

Dickens uses imagery to describe the setting.

Dickens uses pathetic fallacy to good effect.

The story has a twist in the tale / tail.

On the first meeting, the narrator believes the signalman had been haunted by a ghost.

On the first meeting, the narrator suspects the signalman to be touched by insanity.

The story raises doubts about the after life, fate and free will.

The narrator and the signalman are linked in some way.

The description of the setting evokes connotations of hell and death.

The writer employs typical ghost story genre conventions.

The setting would have been considered modern by Victorian readers.


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The Signalman
by Charles Dickens

Literature Coursework: Prose


Develop a personal approach to a challenging text

Show understanding of social, cultural, historical and literary influences
Draw conclusions confidently from the writers use of language, structure and form
Express a critical view
Sustain perceptive and convincing critical responses with some evidence of original
Use quotations as evidence

Title: (MUST be put at the top of the essay!)

How does Charles Dickens use the ghost story genre to provoke fear in both the Victorian and
modern reader of The Signalman?

Notes / Reminders

Use your notes, research and mindmap to help.

Remember to PEE.
Use embedded quotations and cluster quotations where appropriate
Remember to comment on the social and historical background and Dickens beliefs,
experiences and work.
Use strong topic sentences in each paragraph.
Dont just repeat what is in a quotation, analyse its content thoroughly.
Develop your vocabulary; be ambitious!

Word limit: 600 minimum 1,000 maximum


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The Signalman
by Charles Dickens

Checklist / Plan
Show understanding of what a ghost story is and its typical conventions
How did the Victorians use ghost stories as a way of exploring other issues?

Main Body

Write about the exposition

How does it grab the readers attention?
Why use dialogue to start?
Is it a typical ghost story exposition or

Write about the setting

Look at the description and imagery,
Write about the time of day too, why is it
Is the railway setting a typical ghost story
one or not?
What kind of mood is created?
How does this setting reflect the concerns
and fears of Dickens and other

Write about the characterisation

Refer to the choice of narrative style
does it shape the readers perceptions?
What is your impression of the narrator
and how did you form this?
Who is the narrator (refer to Dickens
Are the characters typical of the ghost
story genre?
What is the signalman like?
How does Dickens reveal the characters
to us?

Write about the suspense:

Why structure the story in three separate
chunks / episodes? (refer to magazines in
Dickens times and rise in literacy)
How does the story hook our attention?
Use of repetition of key words?
How quickly is tension built? Clues?
How is the ghost described?
Red herrings: irony that the signalman
feared the narrator was a ghost and vice

Write about the resolution:

Is it satisfying?
How is there a twist in the tale / tail?
How does the narrator have an epiphany?
How do all the clues come together?
How does the ending re enforce the
Victorians fear of railways?

Write about the themes:

How does the ghost story raise concerns
about fate and the after life?
How does the story reflect the Victorians
concerns about industrialisation and
Discuss Victorian beliefs and attitudes to
supernatural (including Dickens himself)
What is the significance of Darwin to this
Does a modern reader have concerns
about ghosts or are we more sceptical?


Show your individual thinking and sum up your ideas

How typical is this story of the ghost story genre?
How untypical is this story of the ghost story genre?
Why would a Victorian reader find it frightening?
As a modern reader, what did you think?

NB: Proof read your work before handing in, checking spelling and punctuation.
Inverted commas around quotations and the title of the story.
This essay can be hand written or word processed.

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