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The Signalman by Charles Dickens and Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl Essay Sample

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The Signalman by Charles Dickens and Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl Essay Sample

From studying The Signalman by Charles Dickens and Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl, you can see noticeable differences between Pre-20th century and 20th century texts. Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl were both influential writers in their time; this is why I have chosen to study them. It’s interesting to discuss differences between content, style and language in the stories. There are also major historical and cultural differences originating from the time difference at which they were written. The beginnings of the two stories are totally contrasting.

In The Signalman the setting is described intricately though the reader is left baffled. We know that something strange is going to happen, since words like “Steep, trench, angry, violent, pulsation, rapid and clammy” warn us that we have “left the natural world”. We learn from when the Signalman looks “down the line” instead of towards the sound that something peculiar is going on. All these elements contribute to the suspense of the story. Lamb to the Slaughter is different; the setting is tranquil, cosy and harmonious, there is nothing mysterious at all.

The home seems idyllic as it is “warm and clean” with the “curtains drawn”. Dahl uses words like “warm, clean, fresh, smiling, soft, blissful, rested, and silent” to lull the reader into a false sense of security. He describes the setting so intimately; the reader is enveloped by it. It seems to play with the reader’s mind. Dahl is manipulating the reader so that the shock will have great impact when it comes. In Lamb to the Slaughter, the main character we meet is Mrs. Maloney and the story is told from her point of view.

She is the caring, pregnant housewife, not the conventional Pre-20th century murderer. Dahl’s idea is that she would never be suspected. There is a lot of irony in this story as because Mrs. Maloney is not only a woman but also a pregnant, caring housewife. We are left to ask ourselves, could she be the perfect victim? Lamb to the Slaughter suggests that the “lamb” is the victim as it is being slaughtered. From her husband’s imprudent, uncivilised behaviour at first we feel sorry for Mrs. Maloney: “her eyes waited on him for an answer, a smile, a little nod, but he made no sign. Her whole life is planned to perfection.

She would always glance up at the clock and “punctually as always” she would hear the “key turning in the lock”, she would then greet her husband at the front door, like an adept housewife after he’s had a hard day in the police force. They seem like such a perfect couple to begin with. She felt loved as a “warm male glow came out of him to her when they were alone together”. When Mr. Maloney gives his wife monosyllabic answers like “Yes”, “I’m tired” and a hoarse “No! it makes us feel sympathy for her after all her care; she is the blameless woman.

She seems to be the “Lamb to the Slaughter” yet the irony is that she is not what she appears, the Lamb is the murder weapon but the ones who are being slaughtered are the police and Mr. Maloney as they are the fools taken in by the act. Dahl does this to make a point about trite murder stories and that people are not always what they seem. Dahl tells us the story in the 3rd person yet from Mrs. Maloney’s eyes to make us live her every move. However, she is very two-faced.

She appears weak and emotional in advance of the crime’s completion and then she becomes calm, collected and composed and continues with her routine to make her feel normal. Mrs. Maloney is also effortlessly able to put on an act and when “Jack” (as she informally calls him) appeared “she fell right into” his arms and wept “hysterically”. “As a wife of a detective she knew quite well what the penalty would be” but she felt that she had to survive for her unborn child so she continued with her routine. In The Signalman the character also fits the setting faultlessly.

He is described as “a dark sallow man, with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows,” the references like “dark” and “heavy” add to the mystery and suspense, as darkness is associated with evil, which holds many secrets. Dickens wants the story to appear foreboding to keep us ion suspense until the end. Traditionally people liked a novel, which kept them guessing. For a long time The Signalman didn’t speak, he was apprehensive and “lonesome” as a “visitor was a rarity”.

The first time the Signalman speaks it is as if he has just read the man’s narrators mind as he replies to the man’s direct unspoken question by saying, “Don’t you know it is? He answered the question by saying the light is part of his charge. This suspicious metaphysical power adds to the mystification and contributes to the thought “that this was a spirit not a man”. The man and the setting cannot “rise into sunshine” from the “damp air” as “he had made his bed, and he lay upon it. It was far too late to make another one”. The sunshine is the bright new lifestyle and the damp air is what he’s caught in because he cannot escape his “troubled lifestyle” which is not idyllic and fulfilled like married life in Lamb to the Slaughter appears.

However, the Signalman is very good at his job and probably “one of the safest of men in Britain to be employed in that capacity” as he is “remarkably exact and vigilant”. There is a lot of suspense in both stories. In The Signalman the eerie desolate setting of the railway cutting is haunting. Dickens describes the setting in graphic detail to give us an indication that something “unnatural” will occur. The narrator felt “daunted” and “stepped back” when the Signalman spoke, as if he is afraid. Suspense is used to keep the reader interested and The Signalman certainly achieves this aim.

There is a climactic build up towards the end when the Signalman tells his traumatic story of the deaths he’s viewed, as “if it came, on those two occasions, only to prepare me that its warnings were true, and so to prepare me for the third. ” Dickens draws us into the story by making us feel the Signalman’s torment; he knows there is going to be an accident but he can’t warn anyone because he doesn’t know what to warn them of, and he feels people would “displace” him from his job. As we see everything through the Signalman’s eyes, we see his worry and feel his “feverish distress” about the future, which lures the reader to read more.

Towards the end, we know that something “treacherous” is going to happen. Dickens causes immense suspense by the intricate descriptions of the railway and “the nameless horror” that we know is going to happen but he plays with time to make us wait to reveal the ending. In many of Dickens stories, he likes to play around with people’s minds, a prime example is Great Expectations which starts with the uneasy setting of the churchyard and the thought that the convict could seriously harm Pip. The climax comes at the end of The Signalman. The warning words “Below there!

Look out! Look out! For God’s sake, clear the way! ” make us realize why the man came to the railway in the first place. The story involves the reader and we are left to feel helpless because we know that something is going to happen but we cannot do anything about it, just like the narrator. The ending is left in such a way that we do not know what has happened to the Signalman and the future is left to our own minds. This causes intrigue and then every different person can interpret the story in their own way. The Signalman has many examples of alliteration.

A prime example is “a flashing self-reproachful fear that fatal mischief. ” The repetition of the “f” emphasizes the words “fear” and “fatal” and makes our minds pay attention to these words, leaving us with suspense as to why these words are so significant. They’re talking about death and anxiety, and therefore alarm the reader. We feel the apprehension of misfortune the Signalman had before all the deaths. There are also a lot of references to darkness in the setting of The Signalman as “so little sunlight ever found its way through” the “depressing and forbidding air” that it had a “deadly smell”.

There is irony with the word “deadly”. As Dahl’s story is written a more colloquial language we can understand it better than Dickens because he uses more elaborate, old-fashioned language with words such as “vehemence” and “abhorrence”. These words may be detrimental to the reader’s understanding of the story, as may the complex sentence structure. Lamb to the Slaughter is written in the 3rd person, yet we can see everything through Mrs. Maloney’s eyes and we want her to get away with the murder somehow because we feel her pain and “desire to vomit”.

We can also relate to her better as she is speaking our informal, modern language. It makes us realize that she is a human being just like us. The suspense towards the end is greater because “their mouths were full of meat” and as the murder weapon is probably “right here on these premises”. There is immense irony and it is interesting to watch how Mrs. Maloney “giggles” as the murder weapon is diminished. The ending is not solved like Pre-20th century stories. Yet we do not need to solve the story because we see it through the murderer’s eyes. Pre-20th century we see everything through the detective’s eyes.

From studying these two stories you can see noticeable differences between pre 20th century (The Signalman) and 20th century texts. (Lamb to the Slaughter). In the Pre-20th century, readers always liked conventional characteristics. They liked the eerie, desolate setting and the suspicious looking central character. The Signalman, like many other Pre-20th century stories was written for the educated people of society hence the convoluted language. Pre-20th century not all people could read and write so those who could read books and were the educated people.

It is also written the way that was generally accepted at that time. Phrases like “He had been, when young” and “‘It is very difficult to impart, sir,'” are not generally used anymore, now the colloquial way of speaking has become more common, as in Lamb to the Slaughter which uses language such as “shoved”. The mystery genre is developed in Lamb to the Slaughter because Dahl does not use all the typical ingredients. Normally the reader is left to guess the murderer’s identity, not left to scheme alongside the murderer.

Both stories try to make a point about modern technology England in 1866 was going through an industrial revolution when factories and mines were growing at a phenomenal rate. Dickens was not altogether in support of this new technology and in The Signalman he tried to make a point that you may have modern technology and employ “the safest man in Britain” but problems may still occur even if the Signalman is “remarkable exact and vigilant”. At the time when Dickens wrote this story railways were new technology and they fascinated people.

Readers wanted a story, which would thrill and excite them, as they had no radio or television, so written form was the only one they had. As the same time as intriguing the reader, Dickens tried to make the point that new advancing technology is not always a good thing. In the story, three people end up getting killed because of problems on the railway. As well as this Dickens uses the supernatural theme to be engaging. In Lamb to the Slaughter Dahl also makes a point about modern technology. The detectives were gullible, they think if they “get the weapon, and you’ve got the man”.

Here Dahl is being humorous to enlighten a serious atmosphere. They are looking for stereotypes. The detectives are just following routine, looking for the stereotypical weapon like a “big spanner” and the stereotypical coldhearted male killer. In the 19th century the reader liked to see people locked up, so that you are working alongside the detectives, but here we are working with the murderer, scheming with her. The detectives have all the modern technology, fingerprints experts, photographers, detectives, but they still couldn’t find the murder weapon as “the murder weapon is probably right underneath our noses”.

In both stories there are violent deaths. Both also have a central character who is “out of their mind”. The Signalman is psychologically disturbed by his strange experiences, whereas Mrs. Maloney acts totally out of character because her life has been turned upside down. Despite the time difference, the stories have certain elements in common. Certainly, both are intriguing and capture the reader’s interest. However, Dahl shows that to write a good story, you don’t have to follow the written law for the mystery genre as he disobeys all conventional methods.

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