Ghost stories were first written in the bible, they carried on being written to convince people of life after death, and the continuation of the soul. This was believed up until the 1600’s/ 1700’s where people started questioning the stories and wondering whether they are true. The age of rationalism, the 18th century, ghost stories were dismissed as untrue, as people were getting more cautious over their beliefs. At the start of the 19th Century writers such as W. Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and H. G. Wells, started writing ghost stories as a form of entertainment for the public.
Modern ghost stories raise questions about whether the soul continues life after death, as modern society is unsure about supernatural existence. In the three ghost stories I have studied, ‘The signal man’, ‘Inexperienced Ghost’ and ‘The Dream Woman’ the settings have al been different. The setting is a key element in creating a scary atmosphere in the readers mind, e. g. traditional settings include and old abandoned house, an overgrown field or a castle. ` It is vital for the author to describe the setting as detailed and as clear as possible to the reader.
The better the author does this, the more effect the story has on the reader. A good example of describing the setting well is from ‘The Signal man’ by Charles Dickens, it reads, ‘I stood on the top of the steep cutting nearly over his head. His figure was foreshortened and shadowed, down in the deep trench. ‘ ‘the cutting was unusually precipitate, it was made from clammy stone, it became oozier and wetter the further I walked. ‘ This describes the setting very well and puts a clean image of the dark, wet, cold, gloomy railway cutting into the mind of the reader.
This is also a typical example of a scary setting for a ghost story. In ‘The dream Woman’ the setting is also very traditional, ‘The Dream Woman’ is set in an inn on the outskirts of a dark forest on a night which happens to have a thunderstorm. Again W. Wilkie Collins goes into great depth describing the setting. The setting in this particular story is engineered to create a scary atmosphere. ‘Isac went round with the landlord, and held the candle while the doors and lower windows were being secured. He noticed with surprise the strength of the bolts, bars and iron-sheathed shutters.
You see, we are rather lonely here,” said the landlord when W. Wilkie Collins describes the shutters and bars, it makes the readers think that here is some kind of abnormal presence around the inn. This will create tension in the readers mind. In ‘The Inexperienced Ghost’ by H. G. Wells the time spent describing the setting is minimal, and this lack of detail shows in the overall effect of the story. ‘The Inexperienced Ghost’ is not a traditional ghost story as it has a comical theme, as if it was meant for young children to read.
H. G. Wells only actually writes a couple of sentences describing the setting, which is an old fashioned gentleman’s country club. He describes the corridor as narrow but well lit with candles. The meeting with the ghost happened in the middle of the night with no one around. Again this is a traditional settingfor a ghost story crating a mystical eerie feeling. All three ghost stories have traditional settings, which help create tension and a super natural feel. In the tree stories the characters are very different, and all three have different approaches to the ghosts.
In the ‘Signalman’ the ghost is a mysterious spectre, which appears before an accident is about to happen. At the start of the story ‘I’ the first person is describing the signalman. He describes him such a way it makes the reader think that the Signalman is actually the ghost. “I had shaded my eyes with my hand before I saw him at all, he had his left hand at his chin, and that left elbow rested on his right hand, crossed over his breast. ” ‘A dark sallow man with a dark beard and heavy eyebrows. ‘ The actual ghost is described as ‘someone else’, ‘the left arm is across the face, and the right arm is violently waved. Instead of being scared of this supernatural presence the Signalman is curious on what it is trying to tell him.
At the end of the story it seems as thought he spectre was trying to warn the signalman of his own death by imitating the train driver shouting and waving at him. In ‘An Inexperienced Ghost’ the characters approach to the ghost is completely as ‘I’ Sanderson the main character, almost mocks the ghost. He describes him to the others as ‘a poor excuse of a man’. The ghost is a new ghost who doesn’t know how to haunt cannot remember how to get back to heaven.
Sanderson takes the ghost into his room and finds out that he died because of his own stupidity. He helps the ghost remember the dance he has to perform to get back to his state of invisibility, but again the ghosts carelessness shows again when he doesn’t realise that Sanderson is watching hi do the dance in the mirror. The main characters in ‘A Dream Woman’ are quite similar to the characters in ‘The Inexperienced Ghost’, with a not very intelligent man called Isaac and his mother. When Isaac encounters the ghost he is very scared, as he doesn’t know that he is only dreaming.
When Isaac asks his mother about the ghost she tells him that it was a dream, which turns out to be the future. The ghost in his dream turns out to be Isaacs wife , who after marriage turns into an alcoholic and Isaac realises that she is the woman from his dreams and begins to be cautious around her. The actual encounter with the ghost happened in the inn, which was the chosen setting by W. Wilkie Collins to create the most tension. The plot for the Signalman is very good because it has the reader wondering why the ghost is trying to warn the signalman.
The basic plot is that a man, ‘I’ is walking along a railway bridge where he sees the signalman whom he shouts down to, and the Signalman invites him down. When ‘I’ first meets the Signalman he describes him as supernatural. The Signalman and I start talking and after a few nights of visiting the Signalman informs ‘I’ about the spectre that keeps visiting him, and that after every visit an accident happens. The next night ‘I’ goes to visit the signalman, and he finds a train driver talking to a policeman. I’ then asks the train driver what had happened, the train driver describes the accident and as he is speaking ‘I’ realises that the actions that the train driver was using to try and warn the signalman were identical to the actions performed by the spectre to the signalman. The last part of the story where ‘I’ is being told about the accident is the most eerie because the reader realises what the spectre was doing to the signalman and he was doing the same as the train driver. The plot for ‘The Dream Woman’ is very scary in my opinion.
The basic plot is; that there is a man called Isaac who is not very bright but is a good worker. He doesn’t have much luck keeping a job because something always happens to his employers. Isaac lives with his mother who is quiet old. A job comes up quiet away from Isaacs’s town so he decides go and apply. Isaac walks to the place of employment for an interview but he has to be back in fore days to celebrate his birthday with his mother. Isaac walks for a whole day solid and as it is getting dark Isaac decides to stay at an inn until the morning and go for an interview in the early hours.
The next day Isaacs goes for the job, and with his luck the job had been taken the night before, in good manner Isaac shakes his hand and enquires about a quicker way home. Isaac follows this route until it gets dark due to a thunderstorm, so he decides to stay at a small inn. Isaac and the innkeeper stay up until 11o’clock talking until Isaac decides to go to bed. He helps the innkeeper lock up and says goodnight. Isaac has trouble sleeping so he leaves the candle on until he goes to sleep. Eventually later that night he falls asleep leaving the candle burning.
After a few hours he is awoken with the feeling that some one is stood over him, as he opens his eyes he sees a blonde woman in a black cloak with a knife gripped in her small hands. She then tries to stab Isaac who avoids the knife, she has another attempt and again Isaac dodges the knife and gets to his feet, at this moment the candle goes out leaving the room in total darkness. Isaac alerts the innkeeper of the woman, and he thinks he is crazy and kicks him out. Isaac walks home and is back in time for his birthday celebrations.
He tells his mother about what happened and as he is telling her she writes the whole story down and locks it in a draw. Years pass and Isaac forgets about the dream. Unexpectedly his mother falls ill, one day she runs out of medicine so she asks Isaac to go to the chemist. Whilst he is in the queue for his medicine a woman in front is asking for poison but the clerk manages to get her to come back later, Isaac is attracted to the woman and after he gets his medicine he goes after her and walks with her around the streets for a bit and eventually persuades her to meet him the next day.
The next day Isaac goes to the field the next day where they arranged to meet, after a few minutes of waiting the girl turns up. She and Isaac become good friends and then progress to become a couple. After a while Isaac asks her to marry him and she agrees. He then arranges for her to meet his mother, and as soon as his mother sees her she realises that she is the dream woman and reminds Isaac. But Isaac has give his word in marriage so he must marry her. After a while of being married ‘The Dream woman’ starts to become violent as she has become an alcoholic.
Isaac becomes scared and leaves to his mothers. After a few weeks Isaac returns home where he and his wife make up. A few days later Isaacs mother dies, this leaves Isaac feeling very afraid. Many weeks of rowing leads to Isaacs’s wife leaving him and swearing never to come back. Isaacs knows that she will because his dream for a few nights Isaac manages not to sleep but one night he dozes off. Within a few hours of sleep he is awoken by the feeling of someone standing over him and the same sequence of events follow which happened in his dream.
The candle burns out and he hears the door open and then close. Days later he decides he will leave, he gives the police money to find his wife and Isaac leaves to find a job. The story then comes back to the doctor talking to the waiter who informs him that to this day Isaac says that his wife is still looking for him and will one day eventually find him. I find the plot to ‘The Dream Woman’ very scary and rather weird, as this man has dreamt an event that will happen in the future and will prevent him being killed.
The theme of this story is quiet similar to the one of the ‘signalman’ where supernatural events are trying to warn the characters of their deaths in the future. The third and final plot is the one of the ‘Inexperienced Ghost’ by H. G. Wells, which I think is very poor. The plot is as follows; A group of friends are walking into their country club where they find their friend called Sanderson. He tells them that the previous night when he was retiring to his room after a long night drinking in the bar he encountered a ghost, because he had a few drinks he was not phased by the ghost which tried to scare him by saying “Boo”.
Sanderson walked up to the ghost and begins to degrade him and questioning him on why he was in the country club. After a period of time Sanderson and the ghost went to Sanderson’s room to continue their conversation. The ghost tells Sanderson that he really didn’t know how to haunt and that when he was alive he used to be quiet and shy, and that he died by going to check a gas leak with a candle. He then explains that to make himself invisible again he must perform a dance but he cannot remember one of the steps.
After a while he and Sanderson come up with the missing step. The ghost tells Sanderson to turn around so he cannot see the dance, but the ghost doesn’t realise that Sanderson is watching him through the mirror. The story comes back to the country club lounge with Sanderson sitting talking to his friends who have mixed feelings about the story Sanderson has just told. Sanderson then says that he will perform the dance to prove he isn’t lying, most of the friends agree except for Wish who thinks that the dance will be dangerous.
Against the willof Wish Sanderson goes ahead and performs the dance. When he had finished he stood lifeless and then just dropped to the floor dead. I think that the ‘Inexperienced ghost is the just an early version of Casper the friendly ghost. The ghost wasn’t there to warn any body of their deaths unlike the other two stories. Sanderson appears to scare the ghost more than the ghost scares him, with this I think that ‘The Inexperienced ghost’ was meant for children and the ‘Dream woman’ and ‘The Signalman’ were meant for adults.
The narrator in ‘The Signalman’ ‘I’ is used in good affect to add belief to the story. First person is used in stories such as ghost stories to make the story more believable as it is being told by someone who has actually been involved in the event that the author is tell the reader about. The story would be less believable if it was being told in third person because the actual true story could have bits added to it each time it had been told. ‘the Signalman’ and ‘The Inexperienced Ghost’ are told in first person .
The first person narrator works to the same effect in both stories to make an otherwise unbelievable story seem true. ‘The Dream Woman’ uses third person which is not as effective as first person for portraying the story as true, but as the waiter is telling the doctor this story he keeps assuring hi that it is true so this does help to make the story feel more true Two of the three ghosts I have studied are extremely similar. The ghost in the Signalman is described as a person but it never shows its face.
It seems as though the main task of the ghost is to try and warn the signalman of his death, it does this by simulating the actions of the train driver just before he runs over the signalman. The ghost in the dream woman appears in Isaacs dream and appears as a real life person and Isaac cannot tell the difference, with this it saves Isaac from being murdered. The ghost in the inexperienced ghost does the complete opposite of the other two as eventually it ends up killing Sanderson because of its carelessness.
Sanderson scares the ghost in this story and then when Sanderson helps him remember his dance he doesn’t realise that Sanderson is watching him in his mirror. I think that the characters in the signalman and the dream woman acted very similar towards the ghosts as they were trying to figure out what the ghost was trying to tell them, but in the inexperienced ghost the ghost is given a lecture by Sanderson abut why he shouldn’t be in the country club as he is not a member, then he is told about how he failed in his life aswell as he has so far in his afterlife as a ghost.
In the Signalman Charles Dickens uses different techniques to create tension. The main example of this is where ‘I’ is walking down a track to meet the signalman, where he describes the setting which is dark and gloomy, this will make the reader feel as though something supernatural is going to happen. Then when ‘I’ actually sees the signalman he describes him from the bottom upwards, the words ‘I’ uses makes the reader think that the signalman is actually the ghost. These creates a feeling of tension and suspense in the readers mind, and makes them feel like something bad is going to happen.
W. Wilkie Collins uses different techniques in the Dream Woman than the ones used by Charles Dickens to create tension. W. Wilkie Collins uses quick actions to surprise the reader, an example of this is where Isaac is sleeping and then suddenly wakes p to find a woman standing over him with a knife, this then keeps the reader on edge through the rest of the story because they are expecting it to happen every time he goes to sleep. The only time H. G. Wells creates tension is just after Sanderson has performed the dance to go through the passes and there is a brief pause before he drops dead.
The technique used by H. G. Wells to create tension is suspense. I think that the Signalman is quite a good story as Charles Dickens describes the setting very well which helps create a scary atmosphere. I also he fools the reader into thinking that the signalman was the ghost. He also creates a lot of tension throughout the story and has the reader trying to work out what the ghost is trying to warn the signal about. I was a bit disappointed by the ending as I thought it was a bit short and it cuts off but I thought it was a very good story.
I think that the Dream Woman by W. Wilkie Collins was the best story out of them all by far. I think this is because W. Wilkie Collins creates tension from virtually the beginning of the story, rite through until the end of the story; this makes the story more enjoyable. I also think that the dream woman is the most believable story out of the three because the waiter keeps assuring the doctor that the story is true and he is not making up a word. I also think the ending was good where it goes back to the waiter and the doctor watching Isaac sleep whilst he is saying the dream in his sleep, this also makes the story feel true.
The Inexperienced Ghost by H. G. Wells in my opinion is the worst out of the three stories. My reasons for thinking this are that the plot was not really very interesting because Sanderson didn’t show the slightest bit a fear towards the ghost which is not very believable. Then Sanderson takes the ghost into his room and has a conversation with him, and because the ghost is not very clever Sanderson discovers the dance you have to perform to go through the passes, which again is not very believable.
So to top the whole story off Sanderson performs the dance and his soul leaves his body and goes through the passes whilst his body just falls to the floor dead. This overall is a poor story in my opinion. To conclude my essay I am going to answer the original question. I think ghost stories are quiet easy to compare, as most ghost stories are very similar if you think carefully about the meanings of the stories and study in depth the setting and the characters.