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This story begins at night with the White family safe and warm inside their home while a storm rages outside. The contrast between the coziness inside the house and the threat outside the house suggests that danger is coming from outside. Mr. White and Herbert are playing chess, and Mr. White, "seeing a fatal mistake [in moving one of his chess pieces] after it was too late," tries to distract Herbert during the game. This comment foreshadows Mr. White's first wish. When Sgt. Maj. Morris arrives, the action of the story begins, and we learn the strange history of the monkey's paw.
Consider how different the mood for the story would be if the story had been set during a bright, sunny day. What would we have to fear? The author wants to create a suspenseful atmosphere in the opening paragraphs to prepare us for the bizarre events to come.
The atmosphere appears to be one of happy family bliss (the fire "burns brightly"; the mother speaks "soothingly"), but at the same time, there is underlying tension. Note that the father and son are playing chess--a game that naturally calls up the idea of war--and that the father is exploding with "unlooked-for violence" about where they live.
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