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W.W. Jacobs creates an atmosphere of horror, fear, and the supernatural in his short story "The Monkey's Paw" in several ways. First, he creates suspense in the exposition of the story. Waiting for the arrival of a guest, Mr. White complains that the home is located in a "beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way" where the "pathway's a bog and the road's a torrent." This is the perfect location for an frightening event to take place.
Second, the monkey's paw itself creates a feeling of the supernatural. The fact the paw is "dried to a mummy," has come from an exotic location, and it has had a spell cast upon it all create fear and suspense.
Seargeant-Major Morris's warning and the negative effects of the first wish for two hundred pounds creates horror and fear as well.
The story's atmosphere of horror is carefully and tightly constructed, beginning with the external atmosphere outside the house which sets an appropriate stage for the drama within. The chess game which Mr. White and Herbert are playing also provides an immediate and clever bit of foreshadowing, for in the story’s second paragraph we are told that Mr. White has just committed “a fatal mistake after which it was too late.” Life is indeed something of a chess game, and this same statement about Mr. White’s fatal mistakes might well appear as the story’s postscript. We also need to take into account the construction of the plot itself, and the way in which each section builds upon what has come before to create rising tension and a mood of anxiety, panic, and fear. The first section introduces the reader to place and time and the characters, including Sergeant-Major Morris, just back from India, a stock character in British popular fiction of the day. It is Morris who, in telling about the origin of the talisman, validates its power. The paw comes from a remote and romantic part of the world that all Englishmen have heard and read about but most have never visited—a part of the world about which the Sergeant-Major, a veteran of the British Army, is a presumed authority. The Sergeant-Major then builds our expectations, and interrupts the otherwise peaceful mood within the house, by telling his listeners that the paw has done enough mischief already and should be destroyed. When the paw seems to move when Mr. White makes his first wish, its supernatural powers are apparently confirmed.
One should also take note of the final scene which concludes Section I. Sitting alone after everyone else has retired, Herbert sees faces in the fire, climaxed by one that is “horrible and simian.” When he
gropes for a glass of water to throw over it, his hand encounters the monkey’s paw resting on the table. Herbert, who has previously joked about the paw and its powers, and of finding the 200 pounds “in the middle of your bed,” has now himself become uneasy. Jacobs’ stage is thus set. As readers we too have been made uneasy and are prepared for the heightened emotions of Mr. White when the plot moves to the bedroom in Section III.
Note too that it is just after Mr. White’s reminder to his wife that “the thing moved in my hand,” that the “ill at ease” stranger arrives with his “furtive” glances. It is in this context that the Whites receive the shocking news of Herbert’s death followed by their 200 pounds. Can it be that their wish has caused Herbert’s death? Probably not, but his death is made all the more terrible because it has occurred in an industrial accident that has left his body mangled. This simple, unadorned statement of fact, so innocently
dropped into the story, creates its own set of emotions when the author later invites the reader to think about a mangled body that has been dead for ten days.
In short, from the beginning of the story Jacobs has carefully and effectively prepared us for the sense of fear that Mr. White feels when he hears the “fusillade” of knocks at the door; the door opens on “a quiet and deserted road.”
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