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“The Signal-Man” by Charles Dickens and “The Man with the Twisted Lip” by Arthur Conan Doyle Essay Sample

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“The Signal-Man” by Charles Dickens and “The Man with the Twisted Lip” by Arthur Conan Doyle Essay Sample

In your answer you should consider:

* The use of setting

* Presentation of characters

* Contextual information

* Anything else you think is relevant

Suspense can incorporate tension, anticipation, fear and also anxiety. Charles Dickens wrote ‘The Signal-Man’ when the stream engine was a piece of cutting-edge technology and he himself was involved in two train accidents, during one of which he was in the only carriage to survive. People shared a common fear for trains due to the high number of fatalities caused by railway accidents and even the title ‘The Signal-Man’ would have conjured up images of an isolated and alien working environment, making his contemporary readers feel unease. Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’ boasts a title which would sound sinister at any time as it hints at an abnormal unnamed ‘man’. It was written at a time when London was filled with crime, squalor and disease. Jack the Ripper was on the loose and there was a general belief of a corrupt police force. This helped to reflect the difficulty of Sherlock Holmes’ work and also contributes to keeping the reader gripped throughout the story.

Both of these stories are written in the first person which helps us to associate with the speaker and therefore experience their emotions more intensely. In ‘The Signal-Man’ since the speaker is finding out new information at the same time as we do and there is an abundant use of internal monologue, pathos is created for him as we align with him and share in his fear and anxiety. In ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’ Dr Watson is an omniscient narrator telling the story retrospectively and by saying things like ‘…the future only could show how strange it was to be’ anticipation is created as he is hinting at something we don’t know.

In ‘The Signal-Man’ the tone remains serious and this keeps us tense from the beginning. Dickens uses metaphors and similes such as ‘There was something remarkable… I could not have said for my life what’ and ‘…as if I had left the natural world’ which suggests of extraordinary things about to happen but we are not aware of, thus giving the story a mystifying and rather ominous tone. ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’, on the other hand, has a much more light-hearted tone as Watson knows the outcome of events and hence the emotions are less intense. The story begins ‘…about the hour when a man gives his first yawn…’ but even this warm and homely tone works towards building anticipation as we immediately suspect that things are about to take a very different turn.

Dickens uses negative adjectives such as, such as ‘…a dark sallow man, with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows’ and ‘saturnine face’ to describe the signal-man. These descriptions all demonstrate dark and rather monstrous imagery with connotations of someone from a mysterious underworld and make the signal-man seem forbidding. His lack of words at the beginning shows that he keeping something to himself. This makes us puzzled and somewhat weary as we struggle to define what he is hiding. However once we find out his secret and sense his suffering and helplessness in ‘…this is a cruel haunting of me. What can I do?’, we immediately empathize with him and his also keeps us enticed to find out what he’ll do next. In ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’ Hugh Boone is described as having ‘…shock of orange hair, a pale face disfigured by a horrible scar…turned up the outer edge of his upper lip…penetrating dark eyes,”. These gruesome words make him seem ghastly and evoke fear from the reader. Doyle also juxtaposes Sherlock Holmes with ‘…bodies lying in strange fantastic poses…’ which exposes the repulsive effects of opium and also stresses the danger of being trapped in an opium den. Holmes’ conversation with Mrs. St. Clair shows off his efficiency as he asks short and blunt questions with gives the story a faster pace and lures us into wanting to find out more.

The settings in both stories use pathetic fallacy throughout to help set the eerie atmosphere. In ‘The Signal-Man’ the story deals with the supernatural and progresses fairly slowly, hence there is only one setting physically separated from the outside world to help us focus on the main plot. It’s based around the signal-man’s hut and the surroundings are sometimes described in groups of three, such as ‘…a gloomy red light … gloomier entrance… black tunnel’ and ‘barbarous, depressing, and forbidding’. This contributes generating a depressing atmosphere and the ‘angry sunset’, which is personified, also adds to the negativity. With ‘a dripping-wet wall of jagged stone’ and ‘crooked prolongation of this great dungeon’, the harsh consonant sounds intensify the unpleasantness of the signal-man’s post and also implies entrapment. The setting in ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’ changes much more rapidly to reflect the action in the story. The cosy sitting room is immediately followed by the ‘vile alley lurking…’ and the alliterative ‘l’s coupled with the personification gives a sense of danger. The opium den is described as being a ‘long, low room’ and the use of assonance here also brings about a sense of entrapment. Out of the den it is a ‘moonless night’ and they are travelling through an ‘endless succession of somber and deserted streets’. Doyle’s use of sibilance and personification here adds to the sinister feel and is somewhat chilling.

Imagery plays a major role in building up atmosphere in these two stories. The authors in many places use colour imagery to help set the scene. Dickens repeated uses the ‘red light’ which we associate with danger and highlights the signal-man’s hazardous working condition. The writers also use the colour black which is often linked with death to create a threatening feel. In ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’ Doyle uses ‘…a black gap…’ and in ‘The Signal-Man’ there is ‘the black tunnel’. Both indicate some intangible danger hidden away in the shadows and create an eerie atmosphere. Plenty of aural imagery are used in the stories to keep us absorbed – onomatopoeias and personifications such as ‘…oozier and wetter’ and ‘the rattle of wheels and the clink of horses’ hoofs’ all help us to picture our surroundings. Sensory imagery is also employed in places such as ‘The wind and the wires took up the story with a long lamenting wail’ to give us a complete feel of the setting and has a disturbing effect.

Throughout these stories the authors build suspense by encouraging our curiosity and fascination. However in ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’ there is a perfect resolution and we are left satisfied with a solid conclusion, whilst ‘The Signal-Man’ never loses its mysterious atmosphere and we as readers are left with many questions which probably only Dickens himself know the answers to.

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