Story Analysis of ‘The Signalman’ by Charles Dickens

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I bring you a ‘Read of the Day,’ a short story in English, so that we can indulge in the joy of reading. You can visit my site for a short story with analysis and participate in the discussion in the comments.

Read of the Day 

Today, we will read The Signalman by Charles Dickens. You can read the short story online here.

About the Author 

Charles Dickens was an English author and social critic. Considered the greatest novelist of the Victorian era and literary genius, he wrote hundreds of short stories, fifteen novels, five novellas, and several essays without formal education. Some of Dicken’s famous writings include Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and A Christmas Carol.

Story Analysis 

The Signalman by Charles Dickens is a psychological horror story first published in the Christmas edition of All the Year Round (1866). 

The story begins with the hook line by the narrator, a traveller at the railway signalman below. 

‘Halloa! Below there!’

But the signalman doesn’t respond as expected by the narrator, who prods on with another call. 

‘Is there any path by which I can come down and speak to you?’

This time, the signalman responds reluctantly, and the two soon befriend each other. The signalman takes the traveller into his box, where the traveller learns more about him. The signalman seems far more intelligent than his job role and admits having wasted his youth years. However, he has no regrets, or so he says to that effect. 

When the traveller lays the bait that the signalman seemed content, that’s when the latter confides in his new friend that it was the opposite case. The signalman was very troubled. But he asks the traveller to visit him tomorrow night when he would reveal the reason. Before parting, the signalman asks the traveller, 

What made you cry ‘Halloa! Below there!’ to-night?’

‘Heaven knows,’ said I. ‘I cried something to that effect—-’

‘Not to that effect, sir. Those were the very words. I know them well.’

‘Admit those were the very words. I said them, no doubt, because I saw you below.’

‘For no other reason?’

‘What other reason could I possibly have!’

‘You had no feeling that they were conveyed to you in any supernatural way?’

‘No.’

He wished me good night, and held up his light. I walked by the side of the down Line of rails (with a very disagreeable sensation of a train coming behind me), until I found the path.

At this point, the story takes supernatural turns with an ending that leaves more questions in the reader’s mind than answers. It’s a story that you can dissect and interpret in various ways. The signalman is wise, and when he talks in an otherworldly zone, you can choose to take him at face value or, well, not.. The story could also serve as a metaphor for the helplessness of individuals when they are unable to save not just others but also themselves. 

Whatever be your interpretation of The Signalman by Charles Dickens, the story will stay eerily in your mind and haunt you forever. How did you like the story?

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Tina Sequeira
Tina Sequeira is a marketer and moonlighting writer. She is passionate about tech, creativity, and social justice—dabbling in and writing about the same.