The Signalman by Charles Dickens and The Darkness Out There by Penelope Lively

“The Signalman” by Charles Dickens and “The Darkness Out There” by Penelope Lively

Comparing ‘The Signalman’ by Charles Dickens and ‘The Darkness OutThere’ by Penelope Lively is an ideal way of looking at two authorsfrom different times and backgrounds. Dickens, writing in thenineteenth century, would have had a very different audience to writefor from Lively, writing in the twentieth century. Therefore, eachauthor uses different techniques to create tension in the two pieces.

During the nineteenth century there was a strong belief in ghosts andthe spiritual world; telling ghost stories around the fireplace isoften seen as a typical form of Victorian entertainment. Dickens drawson this tradition to create a short story that would have stronglyappealed to readers of that time. Lively, however, is not writing foran audience that would enjoy a ghost story as much, therefore ‘TheDarkness Out There,’ is not blatently a ghost story. To capture herreaders’ interests she instead uses the war and the attitudes to theGermans as a focus of concern. As Dickens lived in a time when theQueen was married to a man of German origin, war with Germany was veryunlikely. This meant he had to use an alternate approach to draw theaudience into the story. For this he used the recent invention of thesteam train to gain a foothold into the reader’s minds. This wasalready causing a lot of anxiety so it would have been easy to takeadvantage of the reader. He uses this approach to create tension.

Another way the writers create tension is by exploring elements of theunknown. They both do this but in contrasting ways. In ‘TheSignalman,’ the unknown is explicitly explored and it is obviously aghost story from …

…s and Lively create tension through their useof plot, characters, style and setting. The eerie “Packers End”matches the claustrophobia enhancing setting of ‘The Signalman’.Dickens’ anonymous characters of the narrator and the signalman keepthe readers on edge in ‘The Signalman,’ whereas Sandra’s naivety,Kerry’s suspicious nature and Mrs Rutter’s seeming innocence then theabrupt exposure of true character build up tension and surprise in’The Darkness Out There.’ Dickens’ compacted plot works well to holdthe reader’s attention and the build up to Lively’s final climax keepsher audience hooked to the end. On the whole both authors use eventsof their time well to create suspense. I feel that although Dickensappears to do this more effectively, the seeming normality yet thesense of unease about ‘The Darkness Out There’ creates just as muchtension.

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