Hopeless Help


The ghost in “The Signalman” highlights the innate human tendency to want to help one another in spite of hopelessness and futility.  The ghost reflects the signalman’s own inner desires to be a part of something greater than himself with it’s (the ghost’s) warning its living counterpart of oncoming danger.  In response to the third appearance of the ghost, the signalman asks the narrator, “A mere poor signal-man on this solitary station! Why not go to somebody with credit to be believed, and power to act?”  Here the signalman so desperately wants to prevent another tragic event but he is unsure what exactly he can do since he merely a signalman, a cog in the wheel.  Still rather than worrying about himself and realizing that the ghost’s signal to “look out” is directed toward him (the signalman), the signalman is more concerned about the safety of others.  This is shown when he runs toward the ghost on its third appearance to find out what is wrong rather than taking heed and running away.  Similarly, while the ghost itself is limited to particularly cryptic messages to warn the signalman of oncoming danger, it does so nonetheless in a hopeful attempt to help the signalman save others.  Its inability to actually change the turn of events, however, reveals just how powerless the signalman feels in his position.  He wants to make his life worthwhile by trying to be the best signalman he can be but he cannot fulfill that wish because he has no power to act.  Even though humans try to prepare for whatever may come their way, some things in life are just simply out of their grasp of control, but yet the signalman still tries to help others by trying to understand what the ghost is trying to convey.  And although the ghost would not benefit in any way for preventing these tragedies, it continues to try to help because it is Charles Dickens’ bittersweet way of depicting the beauty of human nature: caring for others because we can, even in the bleakest of situations and even when fate is not as forgiving.

 

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One comment

  1. This response makes me happy because this is exactly how I interpreted the story as well. To me, the main theme of the entire story is that (most) people care about the well being of those around them and want to help them, but that, when it comes down to it, we really are completely helpless in the face of death (or as you said, fate). The ghost keeps appearing, but no matter how many warnings he gives, the accidents still happen. I love your closing sentence; “And although the ghost would not benefit in any way for preventing these tragedies, it continues to try to help because it is Charles Dickens’ bittersweet way of depicting the beauty of human nature: caring for others because we can, even in the bleakest of situations and even when fate is not as forgiving.” I like your interpretation of what Dicken’s was trying to portray: the beauty of human nature, despite the instinctive and reasonable fear of the unknown.

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