Dickens’ “The Signal-Man”

I usually don’t think of Charles Dickens when I think about ghost stories.  This in spite of the fact that he wrote one of the most well-known (and a personal favorite of mine) ghost stories ever.  I think because A Christmas Carol is about Christmas as opposed to holidays in which ghosts are more prevelent and because it’s basic message is uplifting even if it does have a few scary moments, I tend to not put it in the “ghost story” genre.

This weekend, I read Dickens’ short story “The Signal-Man” and was pleasantly surprised that it was a ghost story – the creepy kind.  The narrator becomes acquainted with a railroad signal-man and occasionally shares the man’s solitude on the job.  The signal-man confides to the narrator that he has seen “Appearances” at the mouth of the tunnel by his station.  They occur coincidentally (perhaps?) before some unpleasant circumstances.  The story is rather short, but Dickens writing is beautiful as he describes the personality and station (no pun intended) in life of the signal-man.  The story ends in typical ghost story fashion, so you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out what happens.

I thought I would mention, though, that what makes the story creepy for me is the narrator.  The reader knows absolutely nothing about him except that he is staying at a nearby inn.  No reason is given for why he is roaming around the railroad tracks or why he takes an interest in the signal-man.  It makes me wonder!?

P. S. As I was reading this story, I was reminded of Edgar Allen Poe.

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2 responses to “Dickens’ “The Signal-Man”

  1. Hi Dale,
    I think Dickens only wrote a few ghost stories. Remember, our book club read his “A Trial for Murder” in one of our short story/ghost story months? In the Bradbury story I read recently (“The Exiles”) there was a humorous sideline in that Dickens was one of the authors marooned on Mars with “other” writers of the macabre, a fact he protested vehemently since he “only had a couple stories like that.” (I’m only paraphrasing)

    I think I do have a small volume of his ghost stories, though. Somewhere. I really need to organize my books at home. I can’t find anything when I want to…
    -Jay

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