The main themes explored in the short story “The Signal-Man” by Charles Dickens are that of reason versus the supernatural and of insanity. Additionally, the story is enhanced through the motif of the eyes. The author’s main message is that some events are hard to explain by only using reason.

Reason versus the Supernatural

“The Signal-Man” is constructed around the conflict between rational thought and what appear to be supernatural events. In the short story, a seemingly intelligent and logical man firmly believes that he is haunted by a ghost or a spectre which warns him about catastrophic events which are about to happen close to his railway cabin station. But while the man is convinced he is not hallucinating and that there is a link between the apparitions and two railway accidents (a crash and the death of a lady),



Another theme explored in the text is that of insanity. Many times, people tend to have preconceptions of what a mad person should act like. We tend to assume such a person should be illogical and that madness is easy to spot. Yet, madness may have nothing to do with intelligence and logical thinking.


Motif: The eyes

The motif of the eyes goes hand in hand with both of the themes of the short story. The author makes eight references to the eyes. In the short story, these organs become a motif indicating madness and the troubled nature of the signal-man: “The monstrous thought came into my mind, as I perused the fixed eyes and the saturnine face...”


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