Fear is an essential ingredient in any “ghost story. ” However both Dickens and Stoker have developed the theme of fear to encompass more than just the supernatural. In this essay I will discuss the theme of fear as portrayed in “The Signalman” and “Dracula’s Guest” as well as ghost stories in general. Whether they are written or told by mouth, ghost stories are traditional and long-lived by people throughout the years.
Some people like being scared, others just like to see there friends scared or maybe other people just enjoy ghost stories for the thrill of being frightened by the supernatural and being wary when turning your bedroom light off that the ghost could be watching you. Ghost stories still remain popular. They are now on televisions all around the world as well as at the cinema where people go, buy and box of popcorn and a drink and prepare to be entertained. Both pieces – “The Signalman” and “Draculas Guest” – were set in the Victorian era.
This was a time of great anxiety and religious doubt. It was also an era of widespread interest in spiritualism and the occult. The stories of the supernatural were often metaphors for wider social issues such as the clash between empirical thinkers and metaphysical thinkers. Empirical thinkers believed that science explained everything while the more metaphysical thinkers believed in faith. These stories questioned if spirits were real and what happens to the dead.
These topics would lead to eager discussions between people in this era, most of whom had strong opinions on the matter. There was a growing unease within Victorian society. Technology was being introduced with the arrival of trains for example, the Victorians were not happy with this and the resulting uncertainty of these developments. The modern changes were being seen as a catalyst for extreme aversion. There was also the idea of fate and free will. Who is in control? This was the question on the Victorian peoples minds.
The Victorians craved security and certainty in a period when these were elusive. Both pieces are written in first person narration to make us feel more involved, they make you fear what they fear and share the same emotions as them. In the Signalman this is shown at the very start. The signalman looks in the other direction when the narrator addresses him. The narrator then says, “There was something remarkable in his manner of doing so, though I could not have said for my life what.
But I know it was remarkable enough to attract my notice. The narrator makes you feel suspicious about the signalman because the narrator himself says he is suspicious about him. The same technique is used in Dracula’s Guest. A few paragraphs into the story it says, “Every now and then the horses seemed to throw up their heads and sniffed suspiciously. ” He is suggesting something is going on and animals’ instinct and awareness has noticed it. This makes us think that something is going on as the narrator has picked up on something that could suggest danger.
The characters show fear and doubt in the signalman that was a common thing in the Victorian era. The signalman seems to be overtaken by fear. He feels that everyone is against him and is suspicious of the narrator when he addresses him. As the story continues and the narrator and signalman talk to each other they still seem wary of each other, but the signalman then seems to slowly open up, possibly because he needs to share his fears with someone as it is driving him mad.
He fears the occult and these strange happening were things that the Victorians believed did happen in the world, many of them were convinced spiritualism was real. The narrator also seems to suggest fear quite frequently, or maybe I myself see fear in places where Dickens is not trying to suggest it. The Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker starts off by giving you a false sense of security. The first sentence of the story is “When we started for our drive the sun was shining brightly on Munich and the air was full of the joyousness of early summer. ” Fear then slowly creeps in.
Johann comes into the story and when they talk about going down the dreaded road or what is happening that night he continues to cross himself looking for spiritual guidance. Johann makes the reader feel there is something to fear down the road as he is scared of the road, the narrator dismisses it in his story but this is done to hint there is danger or evil down this road. I also feel that the lack of communication between the narrator and Johann increases tension and Johann instead tries to use physical indications of terror like frantic movements and frequently crossing himself.
The narrator is more calm and collected. He needs a good reason to believe something strange is going on. He insists on going down the road when he has been told he shouldn’t and begged not to go down it. This could be described as ignorance but it could be a force attracting the narrator to this road. He said, when talking about the road, “It looked so inviting that, even at the risk of offending him, I called Johann to stop… ” Even though he knows he could offend Johann he asks him to stop anyway just to feed his curiosity. Is it fate for him to go down this road?
Dickens seems to use an unusual setting for his ghost story but I feel it is still a good setting that he uses well to encompass fear and relate the story to Victorian concerns. It says, “A vague vibration in the earth and air – a violent pulsation – oncoming rush – vapour” This is suggesting the train is like a shaking monster and appeals to the Victorian unease concerning modernization. The narrator in the Signalman also describes the place as a “Great Dungeon” like being trapped in a dungeon, which is related with torture and horror and you can’t escape it.
Stoker sets his story in more traditionally spooky surroundings. Johann and the horses both act strangely to the environment and you can tell that the surroundings play a major part in bringing fear into the story. The weather changes in tandem with the mood of the story and the surroundings generally sum up the mood and amount of danger in a certain situation. I thought both stories did well to encompass more than just the supernatural and I feel they have dealt with the theme of fear very well. I rated both the stories evenly and I enjoyed reading and analyzing them.