The two pieces of literature to be compared and contrasted in this piece of coursework are Charles Dickens’ “The Signal-man” and H. G. Wells’ “The Red Room”. There will also be some references to Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost”. The two stories, both told in the first person, have only one or two main characters. The characters in “The Signal-man” are vaguely described which causes the reader to use their imagination more. There is no real need to describe the characters, as they are not important to the story; the reason for their being is merely to turn what would be just a description into the form of a narrative.
The Red Room” however, describes its characters in more detail. There is one main character who considers himself brave. He is important to the story because as it progresses, he looses his courage and therefore the reader knows there is something to be afraid of and the tension grows. There are other supporting characters that warn him about the haunted room and are important as they demonstrate the main character’s ignorance. As these are ghost stories, the elements of mystery and fear are very important. In order to create this, the description of the surroundings and atmosphere must be incredibly detailed.
The poetic use of language sets the scene. In “The Signal-man” the scene is set in the seventh paragraph where the narrator walks down the path to visit the Signal-man for the first time. The author uses a lot of descriptive language, for example, “solitary and dismal” and “barbarous, depressing, and forbidding air”. These words immediately create a gloomy atmosphere and the reader begins to imagine the character’s dark, damp and dreary surroundings. The use of personification helps the reader to visualise the story, for example “so steeped in the glow of an angry sunset”. This quote is taken from the opening paragraph.
The word “angry” immediately causes the reader to, sub-consciously, have negative feeling about the story. The author could have chosen a positive word to describe the sun like “bright” or “beautiful”, but as this is a ghost story he deliberately chose something negative helping him to set the scene. In “The Red Room”, however, the author sets the scene in a number of paragraphs separated by small pieces of speech. This is an effective way of building suspense because it lets the reader’s imagination wander between the descriptive paragraphs. This was quite a common technique used by many writers of this period.
Oscar Wilde does this in “The Canterville Ghost” and some of his other stories. The author of “The Red Room” also uses personification to aid him to describe the atmosphere in which the main scene is set. An example of this is, “my candle flared and made the shadows cower and quiver”. This creates a sense of fear because the reader will automatically associate cowering with being scared and frightened. This important quote demonstrates the fear and tension H. G Wells so brilliantly builds up: “As I stood undecided, an invisible hand seemed to sweep out the two candles on the table.
With a cry of terror, I dashed to the alcove, then into the corner, and then into the window, relighting three, as two more vanished by the fireplace”. There are lots of pauses within the two sentences and this makes it punchy and rhythmic helping create the building suspense. The word “terror” is a word not to be used lightly, by definition, it means the ultimate description of the horror and the dread the character is feeling. The use of this word alone makes the reader feel uneasy. Both stories are mysterious throughout the entire text.
As they are ghost stories, this is a must because it is all about suspense, intrigue and apprehension, mystery creates this. A quote taken from “The Signal-man” exemplifies this well; “He directed a most curious look towards the red light near the tunnel’s mouth, and looked all about it as if something was missing from it, and then looked at me. ” This quote also conjures tension, personally I can just imagine standing as the character in front of a man who you don’t even know weather they are real or not and then they look away from you towards a black tunnel, stare at it peculiarly, and then back at you with a hard, dark glare.
The two stories have differences in their contexts and very different plots. “The Signal-man” is an unusual and curious ghost story as it leads you to think that The Signal-man is the ghost and therefore you do not trust him which makes you as the reader feel uneasy. The story was influenced from real life as it was written a year after Charles Dickens was involved in a great train crash where ten men were killed. The “Red Room” however, seems almost before its time, nowadays you see many horror films where there is a spirit that haunts a room, a house or some woods and there is no visual ghost or monster.
These must all be influenced from stories such as this. “The Canterville Ghost” in complete contrast is not a traditional ghost story as it is humorous and does not take the traditional features of a ghost story very seriously; the ghost ends up being frightened of the other characters. Both “The Signal-man” and “The Red Room” stories are similar in the sense that they contain most of the traditional features of a Victorian period ghost story including fear, mystery, tension, death and, obviously, a ghost or spirit of some kind.
A great difference between “The Red Room” and “The Signal-man” is that “The Signalman” has an actual ghost that we can visualise, but “The Red Room” does not; the narrator is simply scared by the room so much that he begins to believe that there is a ghost with him or that the room is haunted. Personally, I find the latter more tense for that reason; your imagination has to work harder to imagine something that is not actually there. We have all been tucked up in bed at night and been scared by the dark and strange noises coming from downstairs. You as the reader can therefore relate with “The Red Room” and take it further than just a story.