The Signalman – Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens is a favourite author of mine. Yet, I haven’t read many short stories written by him. I have read his Christmas short stories of course and have liked them very much, but in general, I never felt drawn to his short stories as I had to his novels. However, reading The Signalman made me think that perhaps, the problem is with me, that I was expecting a neatly tied story like those in his novels, which they didn’t provide most of the time. Because of this reason a sort of a void between me and the story, an inability to connect, left me disappointed. However, The Signalman made me think differently. Now I feel that Dickens’s focus in his short stories was not to tie up the story neatly with a well-rounded conclusion, but rather to create a powerful story with an interesting premise, which draws the readers quickly to the story irrespective of whether he has provided answers to the questions raised or whether he ended them on a vague note. It was for the readers to figure after their own reflections, a total contrast to his novels.

The Signalman is a ghost/mystery story and one of the great short works I have read. It’s a powerful production of his pen and striking for being atmospheric. The story is set at a signal post in a solitary place, and Dickens brilliantly captures the dismal, depressing surroundings. He describes that the signalman hardly sees the Sun from there giving us the picture of his isolated life from the rest of the world. In addition, Dickens directs the story in such a way generating a sense of foreboding in the reader. The sense that some catastrophe will befall is constantly present in the reader’s mind, and he is on pins with expectation. The twist at the end left me with goosebumps. And even though many lingering questions called for quiet reflections, the story had a powerful effect on me.

I’m not privy to Dickens’s motive in writing this story. Some say it was the result of Dickens’s personal experience of shock, having survived a deadly derailing accident. Whatever his reason may be, the story made me think of the human mind and its attraction to the supernatural. The Signalman, living in a solitary and dismal place had a greater attraction to the supernatural. He believed that a spectre was warning him of an impending disaster. Was that true? Or was that only a hallucination, his mind playing tricks on him? Living a world apart, in isolation, with no human contact or conversation, was the Signalman’s mind impaired after all? These questions lingered in my mind long after the reading was over.

The Signalman is the kind of story that will never wear on you. It gets under your skin and stays there. And it undoubtedly falls under the canon of Dickens’s best works.

Rating: 4/5

About the author

Piyangie Jay Ediriwickrema is an Attorney-at-Law by profession. Her devotion to literature has taken shape in reading and reviewing books of various genres set in different periods of time. She dabs at a little poetry and fiction of her own and hopes to share her work with the readers in the future.