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“The Signalman” and “A Birthday” Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

Another English coursework essay! Well, I guess I can write another few hundred words; I do want to get good grades. This time we have to write about short stories, the teacher gave us the short stories and asked us if we would like to read together in class or at home. We all chose to read in class. We only had enough time to read half at school but I decided to take a copy of the short stories home and finish reading them. On closer inspection it becomes apparent that a lot is to be learned from the dialogue of the main characters, in particular, the signalman in the short story ‘The Signalman’ and Andreas Binzer in ‘A Birthday.’

A signalman is a short story written by Charles Dickens. This is a story about a signalman who is driven “mad” by the environment of his work, away from sunlight and people. But he was not alone; a supernatural ghost decides to accompany him too. He has a lot of responsibilities to shoulder.

There are only two characters that really are prominent in the short story. In fact in the story, there are only about three to five characters. The important characters are the signalman and the narrator. Charles Dickens uses dialogue to make the characters more appealing and easier to understand. He has written exactly what was need to understand the story, nothing less or nothing more. The characters are described physically briefly but Charles Dickens has described their attitude, nature, thoughts and character to a great deal. Through out ‘The Signalman’ the signalman’s name is not mentioned which seems quite awkward. The signalman tells the narrator about his worries and still they do not ask each other their names. It seemed a little strange!

The signalman was troubled but it did not seem so if a person who would have seen him for the first time and judged him by his appearance. The signalman’s appearance described in the story as, “…he was a dark sallow man, with a dark beard and rather heavy eyebrows.” He seemed to look perfectly reasonable and normal but you should never judge a book by its cover. You cannot tell his problems merely by his appearance! (Proved by the short story)

The signalman is a very peculiar man. When the narrator called him from the top of the steep cutting he did not seem to reply and walked down the railway line, ” ‘ HALLOA! Below there!’…/ he could not have doubted from what quarter the voice came; but instead of looking up to where I stood on the top of the steep cutting nearly over his head, he turned himself about and looked down the Line.” This showed me that he does not get diverted by someone calling him; instead he does his job first. Later on in the story he also stops talking to the narrator, as his job comes first and his problems later, ” In charge of his duties I observed him to be remarkably exact and vigilant, breaking off his discourse at a syllable, and remaining silent until what he had to do was done.” The signalman seemed to love his work even if he did not love his work he was always very devoted to his work.

I believe that one’s work environment or even home environment defines a person and that is what builds one’s character. The signalman had nothing in his life except his job; he had nothing to return to his home for, no wife or children. His work environment was unpleasant and seems unhealthy and the narrator saw this as stepping into the “unknown,” “…As if I left the natural world/… entrance to a black tunnel, in whose the massive architecture there was a barbarous depressing, and forbidding air… it had an earthly deadly smell/ His post was in as solitary and dismal place as ever I saw.” A limitation was placed on the signalman through his work.

He could not go out and enjoy the sun and light for a few minutes and the signalman did not even try to go and enjoy, he was too devoted to his work. The signalman had to live within specific limits, you can say, a box or in other words “post.” He was so bored that he tried to learn things himself but could not go out and the sadder part was that he did not even try. He was the teacher and student, “He had taught himself a language down here – if only to know it by sight, and to have formed his own crude ideas of its pronunciation, could be called learning it. He had also worked at fractions and decimals, and tried a little algebra; but he was, and had been as a boy, a poor hand at figures.” “Was it necessary for him when on duty, always to remain in that channel of damp air, and could he never rise into the sunshine from between those high stonewalls?” “Why, that depended upon times and circumstances.”

Intelligence is an important aspect of life and the signalman had intelligence and knew how to respect other people as well. He never thought he was superior and never disrespected narrator. In fact he did not even speak a lot which is another thing you may add to his strange habits. The narrator describes the Signalman as “…quiet manner/ intelligent, vigilant, painstaking, and exact,” and it seems heartbreaking how this man is “trapped,” at this work place. This man showed signs of some sort of problems or unusualness, before he told the narrator his actual problems, “… for the circumstance that while he was speaking to me he twice broke off with a fallen colour, turned his face towards the little bell when it did not ring, opened the door of the hut (which as kept shut to exclude the unhealthy damp), and looked out towards the red light near the mouth of the tunnel. / 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.”

My parents told me never to speak to a stranger and I am sure that this man was taught the same thing but still the signalman was honest about his problems and tells the narrator everything on their second meeting, “It is very difficult to impart, sir. It is very, very difficult to speak of. If ever you make me another visit, I will try to tell you.” This just showed me how desperate he seemed to be and how troubled his life is. A visitor was quite a new thing for him and still openly discusses his life as it was an open book, “A visitor was a rarity, I should suppose; not an unwelcome rarity…”. Visitors were uncommon but he did not let this rarity hold him back and he spoke with his heart Perhaps it was just because he needed to talk to someone or maybe because the narrator coincidentally, used a similar set of words, “What made you cry ‘Halloa! Below there!’ tonight?” This just shows that what ever it was this man was seriously having problems and needed to discuss these matters with someone. The signalman even thought that his man was the “ghost” and was unsure for sometime. This coincidence truly changed his life. Few words can change a person!

The irony is that the ghost he was seeing was to protect him or you can say it was to show him his fate and the accidents that took place before that were just warning signs that he did not understand, his life seemed to be strange and disturbing to him. He though this was his intelligence and imagination playing with him. He thought it was all in this head. The “spectre” was something in this head this is all he thought but thoughts and decision can change is a split second, ” ‘Within six hours after the Appearance, the memorable accident on this Line happened, and within ten hours the dead and wounded were brought through the tunnel over the spot where the figure had stood/ …’was just a year ago…looked towards the red light, and saw the spectre again.’/…’ It leaned against the shaft of the light, with both hands before the face. Like his.’ /… and the ghost was gone/ ‘ That very day, as a train came out of the tunnel, I noticed, at a carriage window on my side, what looked like a confusion of hands and heads, and something waved/..A beautiful young lady had died instantaneously in one of the compartments/ The spectre came back, a week ago/ Ever since, it has been there, now and again, by fits and starts.” Eyes may not always show what is true but this fictitious sight was his destiny, his fate and his life.

The narrator thought all this was his imagination and so did the signalman, but he knew that this was not something to ignore and many deaths took place due to this, ” ‘Did it ring yesterday evening when I was here, and you went to the door?’/ ‘Twice’ /…’how your imagination misleads you. M y eyes were on the bell, and if I am a living man, it did NOT ring at those times…” Even though the narrator does know whether to believe in himself or not but the signalman has faith in his eyes and what he saw.

The signalman has also learnt to distinguish between the “spectre’s bell” and of what is he “man’s bell,” or you can say the bell actually used for his job. This man, who has so much he is accountable for, had figured out a way to save people even though it is driving him to be crazy. The pressure on this single man must be extremely powerful and even though he felt it he though it was his duty to stand up to this pressure and fulfill his job.

The signalman is so confused he does not even understand why his imagination is doing this to him. In fact, he does not even know if this is something real or not but still believe in it, ” ‘What does the spectre mean?’/ ‘What is its warning against?’ / ‘What

is the danger? Where is the danger? There is danger overhanging somewhere on the Line.'” This

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man is so concerned about the “Line”, he was literally going through mental torture, he was constantly thinking what was going and always was trying to find a logical and sensible reason to all this. He wanted an answer to his situation by hook or by crook.

The narrator seemed quite interested and he had connection with this man. He had gone back just to listen to his problems and after this he also asked if he could stay over for a night just to make sure that he was fine, ” I had offered to stay through the night, but he would not hear of it.”

To pass a message communication is extremely important. Communication clear and should be understandable to other party but the spectre did not seem to be good at this. In fact the spectre took this mans life instead of saving it, “He was cut down by an engine, sir./ No man in England knew his work better/ As he didn’t seem to take heed of the whistle, I shut if off when we were running down upon him, and called to him as loud as I could call. / ‘I said, Below there! Look out! Look out! For God’s sake clear the way!’/ …I waved this arm to the last; but it was no use.” This is exactly what the signalman had heard and seen, and he told the narrator the same thing. Something that the narrator classified as unreal showed its true colour. The narrator felt great pain to see such an intellectual man die, “…that only in my own mind, to the gesticulation he had imitated.”

A Birthday is written by Karen Mansfield. This short story is about a man, Andreas Binzer, and the way he sees himself and other people around him, but the ironic thing is that in his world he is the only that exists. Other people do not count as much as he does. I don’t know whether to say fortunately or unfortunately but he has wonderful people around him. Their kindness and selflessness do not seem to affect him. Once again the details in the dialogues build up the main character with such realism.

Andreas Binzer thinks he is absolutely perfect. His extremely self awareness is evident from his thoughts about his teeth, “What teeth! He thought. Sound as a bell, every man jack of them. Never had one out, never had one stopped.” He thinks it took a lot of hard work and energy to make his teeth look, feel and sound perfect, “That comes of no tomfoolery in eating, and a good regular brushing night and morning.”

Time is something that goes and does not come back and Andreas Binzer knows this perfectly. He is a man who works with his watch, a man who has planned everything before time, “‘Half-past eight, Sunday, breakfast at nine -time for the bath’- his brain ticked to the watch.” He seems to be a man who notices things around him and is quick to judge and decided whether it was or is right or not, “The Venetian blind was broken…/ that blind must be mended/ … people had a wretched habit of throwing their empty tins over the fence into the gully/… and decided, viciously, to write a letter to the papers about it and sign it.”

To differ from right from wrong may be really difficult for some people but not people like Andreas Binzer. If he think something is wrong it can never be right no matter who says its right. He thinks that he is always exact and correct. He thinks that he knows-it-all Andreas Binzer notices very detail. If there is something wrong he would notice it and would make people fix it for him as he thinks he is too superior to do such same things. He is the kind of man who likes to pick out the mistakes and faults of other people instead of correcting himself, “…blind must be mended. I’ll get the office boy to drop in and fix it on his way home tomorrow – he’s a good hand at blinds. Give him two pence and he’ll do it as well as a carpenter. Anna could do it herself if she was all right.

So would I, for the matter of that, but I don’t trust myself on the rickety step-ladders.’/ …write a letter to the papers about it and sign it – sign it in full.” He could see that the blinds must be fixed but would not do it himself as he did not trust himself on the “rickety step-ladders,” he did not mind anyone else doing it but instead it seemed reasonable to him. This was actually his excuse, it was to much trouble or bother for him to actually mend it. He also considered it beneath him to do such menial tasks. his wife was in labour from the previous night and all he could think of was who was going to fix the blinds and he thinks that being in labour was not “all right,” as if this was not the right time or as if she could have waited until the blinds were fixed. Andreas Binzer Binzer’s self importance is highlighted by the fact that he believes he will make more of an impression be signing his name in full name when writing a letter of complaint against the people who litter his gully. This shows how he thinks his needs and ideas seem to be more superior to those of other people. It does not matter in what situation anyone is in (his wife) he would prefer and want his job done first.

“‘I’m too sensitive for a man- that’s what’s the matter with me. Have been from the beginning, and will be to the end,” these are his thoughts and he has just called their maid, “Slut of a girl/… ‘Breathing into that, now, I suppose,”” a few minutes before. I get the impression he believes that his needs should be fulfilled first no matter how much trouble anyone else goes through, it is all about HIM! “Anna must get rid of the girl- even if she has to do without one for a bit- as soon as she is up and about again.” Overall, unpleasant tasks become the responsibility of someone else. In this instance his wife will be regarded as the awful one and she will have to fire their mad because he is not satisfied with her work. Once again he says “as soon as she is up and about.”

Andreas Binzer Binzer’s mother comes out of a room looking dreadful, “…her cap was crooked, and a long tail of hair hung over her shoulders,” asking Andreas Binzer to go to the doctor, “…please go to Doctor Erb as soon as you are dressed,” and he asks ” ‘Why…/… is she bad?” Instead of getting a doctor or worrying he asks his mother calmly “why?” His wife is in labour and talks about his own health, his wife’s health seems to matter after him, “Anna has been in pain all night. She wouldn’t have you disturbed before because she said you looked so run down yesterday. You told her you had caught a cold and been very worried.” His wife went through pain all night just so her husband could get a nice sleep whereas he thinking about her fixing the “blinds.”

Looks are important in life should be Andreas Binzer Binzer’s motto. Andreas Binzer seems to take care of his appearance, it is one of the things that is important to him. He brushes his teeth regularly and before he goes to get the doctor for his wife, he needs to get dressed, “…opened the door of the front bedroom, a long wail came from the room. That shocked and terrified Andreas Binzer Binzer. He dashed into the bathroom, turned on both taps as far as they would go, cleaned his teeth and pared his nails….” He did not go to get the doctor but instead went to get a shower faster.

” ‘And I can’t understand it. It isn’t as though it were her first- it’s her third,” this seems to bother him because due to his wife’s painful labour he has to get a shower sooner and go get the doctor, how selfish his wife? She is making his husband so much and all she is giving for this is a child! He does not like it when the attention goes to somebody else, “Anna ought to have had a qualified nurse. Mother gives way to her. Mother spoils her.” He could not bear his wife getting the attention even at such a crucial time.

His maid appeared to be more joyful and excited about the impending birth Andreas Binzer. “She was full of terrified joy and importance in the goings-on upstairs.” The maid tries to express her joy with her “master” but he is not bothered to talk to anyone who is inferior to him, “… to comfort him, like…/But the master gave her no opening.”

Once again, Andreas Binzer cannot help not thinking about himself and his needs, “…That’s the mistake I made; turning out early on an empty stomach,” he did not seem to care about his wife. On the contrary, his unfilled stomach was uppermost in his thoughts.

Andreas Binzer now compares his life to a milkman, ” ‘H’m, not much wrong with him…. / ‘ Wouldn’t mind a taste of that life myself…/” He knew this was an exaggeration, but he wanted to pity himself. His thoughts are that the milkman is lucky because he has a simple life and he does not even think of the fact that the wage or salary this milkman may not even be a fraction of what he earns. He does not think that he would have to give up his easy and luxurious life to become a milkman.

Andreas Binzer wants others to see how caring and unselfish he is, he does not mind lying either to prove this point. A white lye is not technically a lie is, ” ‘Mother dragged me out of bed this morning with imperative orders to bring you along.”

Andreas Binzer feels intimidated by the doctor as he is more highly qualified in comparison to him,”… he had the right to poke fun at everybody simply because he was a doctor/ ‘The man maybe all right in his profession-but heaven preserves me.'” It is incredibly amazing how this man thinks he is perfect and does not have sins even though a while ago he treated his maid as if she was his shoe. He would do anything to make himself look more superior to the doctor. A while ago when Andreas Binzer was passing by and saw rubbish and commented on it, “Everything here is filthy, the whole place might be down with the plague, and will be, too, if this street’s not swept away,” and as soon as the doctor makes a comment similar to his he suddenly changes his mind. ” ‘Look at these shops we’re passing- they’re festering sores. How on earth this government can tolerate-‘ / ‘they’re not so bad-sound enough- only want a coat of paint.’ “

Finally when Andreas Binzer actually thinks about his soon to be born child he wants his child to be a boy and not a girl only because he has two girls. He does not think of the pain it takes to deliver a baby even though he can hear his wife screaming and staying up in pain all night, ” ‘A boy? Yes, it was bound to be a boy this time.”

The doctor understands what a woman actually goes through at home and while they deliver but a doctor is not needed to understand a woman’s work and her situation and Andreas Binzer does not understand that. The doctor tries to explain what a woman goes through, “‘Nerve! Man alive! She’s got twice the nerve of you and me rolled into one. Nerve! she’s nothing but nerve. A woman who works as she does about the house and has three children in four years thrown in with the dusting, so to speak.” Andreas Binzer felt guilty once again but he never understands what he does or says wrong that is because he never tries to understand someone else’s situation.

Andreas Binzer dreamed about how happy his life was before he got married and how his wife was all full of energy and her everlasting laugh,” A kid in those days, younger then her children in nature, brighter, more ‘go’ and ‘spirit’ in her life/ She had lost all her go in two months.” He never thought for a second how much work she had to do or never thought of making the first move himself.

A sudden change in weather made him realize his feelings for his wife. He seemed to have no love left for his wife, she seemed like a stranger to him. He thought that it just took four years for their relationship to change. His wife’s change seemed to bother him only because she did not look suitable for his or his “sons” standards, ” She doesn’t look like my wife- like the mother of my son / she did not look like the mother of a son who was going to be a partner in the firm/ The more he played with it the deeper grew his dislike of it/ Thrice he carried it over to the fire place and decided to chuck it behind the Japanese umbrella in the grate; then he thought it was absurd to waste an expensive frame.”

Suddenly as the doctor returns he feels as though his wife has died, ” ‘My beloved wife has passed away!” But instead it was good news, ” ‘Well, she’s hooked a boy this time!” All Andreas Binzer says is, ” ‘Well, by God! Nobody can accuse me of not knowing what suffering is.” Andreas Binzer literally killed his wife in his thoughts and called this suffering. Suffering for him was thinking for a few minutes.

Andreas Binzer could have been such a character because ‘A Birthday’ was written by a woman. Some women tend to see men in a negative light as, selfish, self-centered and arrogant. Andreas Binzer may not have been portrayed so pessimistically if maybe, he had been written by a man. He would have been an extremely attractive man, totally devoted to his family with an outstanding paying job and the story would have been written to show how women are lucky to have men on their side and how thankful women should be to God for creating Men. In view of the fact that this short story is written by a woman it seems to be more descriptive. If ‘A Birthday,’ and ‘A Signalman,’ were compared Andreas Binzer’s character would be unquestionably more descriptive than that of the signalman. Karen Mansfield described everything from his teeth, attitude and nature in greater detail. Meanwhile, Charles Dickens just wrote what was needed exactly.

The way people see each other seems to differ so drastically. In one short story you try to understand a person’s problems and situation whereas, the other shows how inconsiderate a person can be and still be blessed with great people around them. I spent a long time writing this essay and I believe that if I take the time I would really show what people are like. It amazed me how realistic the characters in these short stories are and that many people like those can be found in the world.

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