The ways The signalman and The darkness is out there create tension

In this, essay I am going to look at the ways ‘The signalman’ and ‘The darkness is out there’ create tension. I will be sure to compare the two stories and talk about the differences they have to each other. In both story’s, dreadful incidents happen involving death and unexpected endings. In the story ‘The Signalman’ by Charles Dickens, the author visits an isolated signalman who is being haunted by a ghost. The ghost comes as a sign of tragic accidents. The ghost has appeared a third time. The disaster turns out to be the signalman’s own death. The story was written in the 19th century.

In ‘The darkness is out there’ by Penelope Lively, two young people go to visit what seems to be a lovely old lady. They soon see beneath this mirage when she tells them how she let a German airman die in The Second World War when his aircraft crashed in the nearby woods. They find out that everyone has a dark side and things are not as they seem to be on the surface. The story was written in the 20th century. The two authors, Charles Dickens and Penelope Lively, are experts at building tension. Lively, wrote the well-known story, ‘The ghost of Thomas Kempe’.

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She then went on to write her first adult book and in 1987, she won The Booker Prize for ‘Moon Tiger. ‘ To make her stories so tense she uses a simple plot to construct and progress on. They are set in pleasant, realistic situations with focus on people who give the impression of being quite normal. These people often turn out to be anything but pleasant. She subtlety suggests that things are not quite as they seem which often finish with surprising and astonishing twists at the end. In my opinion, the story was aimed at an older parson, due to the content of the story.

I think she wrote the story to make the reader fearful from a psychological angle. Charles Dickens was, and still is, an admired writer. His stories, and the characters in them are so transfixing that numerous ones have been turned into films or musicals for instance; ‘Great Expectations’, ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’. Dickens’ childhood was one of poverty and hardship. Throughout growing up, he moved around a great deal. This was due to his father being poor and not managing his affairs very well. At one stage, his father was put into prison due to being in debt.

All of these factors made Dickens stories seem so real, with a lot of understanding of grotesque characters. Due to their being no electricity, soap operas were not available and so people used to sit down with a book and read it as a family. He was the soap opera of his day. Dickens would write for a weekly magazine leaving each chapter with a cliffhanger leaving the people wanting more. Dickens gives the people what they want, and his love to scare people increase the tension. His use of personification and repetition also make his work so original.

I feel that the story was aimed at an older reader due to his use of language. The way it was written shows me that Dickens was trying to shock and scare his audience. Both ‘The Signalman’ and ‘The darkness is out there’ have unexpected endings. Compare the way tension is built up in both stories so that the reader is surprised by how the stories end. In the story, ‘The darkness is out there’ By Penelope Lively; tension is built in a range of ways. The title already makes us uneasy, as it is so ambiguous. Our imagination starts to consider what the ‘darkness’ could be, causing us to feel uncomfortable at the possibilities.

The story then leads us into a sense of false security. This puts us in such a relaxed state of mind that we are easy prey to sudden fear. The story begins with the focus on Sandra as ‘She walked through flowers’, this paints a very reassuring picture and we are put at ease. Lively describes Mrs. Rutter as a ‘cottage loaf of a women’, which gives us the image of a warm comforting lady. We also see her use of affectionate language and her kind gestures when she offers her visitors a ‘chocky’, as she always ‘keeps a few chocies by for visitors’ and she calls them ‘Ducks’.

All these actions are those of a kind person, and we begin to like Mrs. Rutter. When ‘Packers and the stories and tales that are attached to it are mentioned, we begin to tense up and feel anxious. We are worried when it is described by Sandra as ‘nasty, creepy’. The fact that we never get the full story about this place adds to our unease. With this combination of fear and calmness, we are constantly on edge. The images of ‘sweet old Mrs. Rutter’ contrasts with those of Packers Wood, subtly suggesting that we must be prepared for what happens next.

When later we hear of how, during the war, Mrs. Rutter let a German Airman die when his plane crashed in Packers End, we are shocked at how someone who we thought of as ‘nice’ had such evil in them. The way Mrs. Rutter tells the story, so ‘mater of factly’ and with no shame or regret, increases the tension and our confusion. The added tragedy of Mrs. Rutters husband dying only a short time earlier, makes this story especially sad. In the end, we see how Sandra has an insight at why Mrs. Rutter felt she had nothing to be sorry for, in acting this way.

This story looks at the British prejudice towards the Germans during the war, and how such evil was encouraged by war propaganda. This can be compared to the discrimination in ‘Roll of Thunder hear my cry’ between the whites and blacks. ‘The darkness is out there’ also looks at why we lash out when in pain. Mrs. Rutter was grieving the loss of her husband, and the fact she would never have children. She took this pain out on the aircraftman. In the end we begin to understand that this ‘Darkness out there’ is the evil that can arise at different situations inside humans, despite how nice a person we are.

Our realization leaves us tense and shocked. We have all learnt a valuable lesson. The last sentence ‘Oh no’ causes us to put down the story still feeling tense. Dickens’ story ‘The Signalman’ has many examples of different ways of building tension. The opening line; ‘Halloa! Below there! ‘, plunges us immediately into the story, telling us that we must be attentive in order to follow the story. It also makes our imagination start to ask questions, for example; who is saying this? Whom are they speaking to? The man he is shouting to below looks round to face the tunnel “Looked down the line”.

Any normal person would look upwards in response to this. Again, Dickens is creating the unexplainable, which builds up the tension and suspense. The ghosts repetitive behavior makes us feel anxious. The ghost always shouts, ‘Halloa! Below there! ‘ He waves his arm and covers his eyes. From first reading, it appears that the ‘signalman’ keeps to the dark, remote location as it is set in a cutting, where trains run through. The signalman works alone making his post a solitary one, he is rarely visited. “His post was in a solitary and dismal place as ever I saw.

“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. ” The last quote tells us very much that this place is not natural and that he has entered an entirely different world. Dickens’ portrayal of the tunnel and the cutting is very detailed, and is expressed through use of onomatopoeia words. For instance; ‘zigzag’ and ‘gloomy’ These words give an apparent image of the cutting and this tunnel, resulting in us feeling we are involved in the story.

Many things are left to the unknown; firstly, we know little about the signalman’s past but what we do know doesn’t seem to add up to his present situation. We know he is a well-educated man, which is strange as a signalman is a rather low post. We know that he ran wild in his youth, but we know not of the circumstances. The signalman’s appearance is quite peculiar as is his behavior. He looks at the bell when it does not ring and talks of a ghost. His eyebrows are thick and his skin tone is odd. Painting a picture of a mysterious looking man.

We are told very little about the ‘signalman’. However, it is more than we know of the visitor who, along with the signalman, remains nameless. He seems to have no apparent reason for his visit to the signalman and shows no earlier or previous relationship with him. We know nothing about the ghost, we don’t know if it is a past victim of a train crash or any other murder or if it is there as a guardian for the signalman or just to warn the signalman of an upcoming accident. The irony of it is, is that the spectra finally forecasts the signalman’s own death.

The fact that all the main characters; signalman, visitor and ghost, are left quite mysterious with us knowing very little makes the story more chilling. For it is human nature to be scared of the unknown. “But I expressly intend to make you another visit”. The two men meet both times at the bottom of the cutting at night “I will come at eleven”. This keeps the tension due to the darkness, It would probably be lost if they were to meet on a sunny day. Also, the darkness impairs the narrators’ vision so he can’t be sure what’s out there.

The story is written in first person so it feels like it is actually happening at the same time you read it. This is evident when he talks with and about the signalman “You look at me as if you had a dread of me”. Neither you or him know what the response is going to be The ghosts repetitive behavior makes us feel anxious. The ghost always shouts, ‘Halloa! Below there! ‘ He waves his arm and covers his eyes. When the words and actions are repeated it leaves us in anticipation of the disaster to follow. We too feel the desperation and distraction of the signalman’s ordeal.

He ‘wiped the drops from his forehead’ showing his nerves and so making us feel nervous. We also develop sympathy for the signalman making the ending more dramatic for us. When we hear the signalmans’ story, it is one with such a horrific plot that we become drawn in. When the author continuously interrupts it, we become more anxious and become desperate to hear the rest of the story. Dickens’ use of painful personification, like ‘angry sunset’ and ‘violent pulsation’ contributes greatly to the story’s impact. Short sentences and repetition gives the story a sharp edge.

There is such a conflict in personalities between the author, calm and collected, and the agitated and stressed signalman. We end up having to choose sides between the author believing the signalman is crazy, and the signalman, behaving crazy. The irony leaves us shaken. The one time the signalman chooses to ignore the voice was the one time he should have. The calm scientific reasoning of the author was wrong whilst the hysterical ramblings of the signalman were surprisingly correct. The unexplained ending leaves us in a very tense and unsettled state. Our many questions are left unanswered.

We feel confused by the ending and anxious to understand what has happened. The story is left open for our own interpretations. Conclusion I have looked carefully at both stories, examining closely all of the different points that contribute to the story’s tension. I liked the irony in ‘The Signalman’. In the way that the author thinks that the signalman is a ghost, when all the while, The Signalman is thinking the same thing. The Irony at the end shocked me. The way that The Signalman felt he was going insane in those final seconds before the trains impact, he finally got his mind back, only to loose his body.

There was more irony in the fact that it is the Signalman who is supposed to stop danger and make the rail tracks safe for people but ends up being killed himself. I also enjoyed the way the signalman had a more complex plot, making it more challenging to follow. The painful language and personification helped me to understand the pain that the story contained. I found it very interesting that the first words of the story;’ Halloa. Below there’ which had no significance in the beginning became so important that they were the result of the signalman’s death. The stories aim was to scare me and provide entertainment.

In my opinion, it fulfilled its aims. The twist at the end left me in shock, as it was not what I had expected. I think that the story tried to teach us to believe in ourselves, and what we think is right. ‘The darkness is out there’ had many lessons to teach us. I liked the way it lured me into a false security yet kept me on edge at the mention of Packers Wood. I found it interesting seeing what Mrs. Rutter did from her point of view. I saw how the propaganda influenced the English’ view of the Germans at the time. We saw them as vermin, and thought nothing at killing them.

This type of stereotyping and prejudice is seen in today’s society. We are lead to believe that you must be ‘skinny and beautiful’ in order to be accepted by people. In the book ‘Of Mice and men’, we see examples of prejudice against Lenny, all because of his mental illness. Many people are prejudice at one time, and it is rarely told from the oppressors’ point of view. Although from an educational point of view ‘The Darkness is out there’ is the best story, I think that I preferred ‘The Signalman’. It was very tense and exciting. It sucked me in from the start and held me captive right until the end.

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