The University of Tennessee's William Robinson created a list of elements which look to define the horror story as its own particular genre. W.W. Jacobs's short story, "The Monkeys Paw," fits most of these elements:
The Unexpected: What usually begins in an unassuming environment and ordinary situation turns into something quite bizarre and unexpected. The strange occurrences in the White household begin normally enough as father, mother, and son enjoy an evening together. They are then introduced to the strange, supposedly wish-giving, monkey's paw by Sergeant Major Morris. The inclusion of the talisman introduces a supernatural and unexpected twist to the story. The White family's acceptance of the monkey's paw leads to a dreadful series of events, including Herbert's death when Mr. White gives in to his dark impulses and makes a wish he will later regret.
The Contrast: There is a contrast between the everyday normalcy of life with the strange events which ultimately take place. The Whites live a routine existence, and the morning after the family receives the monkey's paw is like any other as Herbert prepares to go to work and thoughts about the paw are lost. Jacobs writes:
In the brightness of the wintry sun next morning as it streamed over the breakfast table Herbert laughed at his fears. There was an air of prosaic wholesomeness about the room which it had lacked on the previous night, and the dirty, shriveled little paw was pitched on the sideboard with a carelessness which betokened no great belief in its virtues.
Later that day, however, Herbert turns up dead and Mr. White, who had wished for enough money to pay off his house, receives just that amount as a settlement from Herbert's work, where he was killed in a horrible accident.
The Dark Side: In this element there is often a fight between good and evil. In the story, the mother, grief-stricken over the loss of her son, turns to the monkey's paw to bring her son back. She forces her husband, against his better instincts, to wish Herbert alive again. The malevolent product of this wish is later understood by Mr. White when he realizes that his son will return as a hideous zombie after being maimed and buried.
The Mood: The mood in the horror story is usually menacing and dark, with the atmosphere often portrayed in great detail. This element is apparent in the story when Mr. and Mrs. White are expectantly waiting for the return of their son from the dead:
Neither spoke, but lay silently listening to the ticking of the clock. A stair creaked, and a squeaky mouse scurried noisily through the wall. The darkness was oppressive, and after lying for some time screwing up his courage, he took the box of matches, and striking one, went downstairs for a candle.
The Plot: The plot of the story may begin normally, but will contain frightening and unexpected events. The story opens with Herbert and his father playing chess. It is a typical night in the White household until the monkey's paw is introduced, which leads to the bizarre scene in the fire witnessed by Herbert, his death, and his aborted return. In the plot, a main character usually has to face the evil and overcome it. In the end of the story, Mr. White, realizing what is knocking at the door is not really his son, ultimately finds the paw and wishes away the walking corpse.
Suspense: Suspense is arguably the most important element of any horror story. In "The Monkey's Paw," this suspense is present in the beginning of the story when the Sergeant Major describes the power of the paw, and in the last section of the story as the Whites await Herbert's return from the dead. Mr. White's frantic attempt to wish his son away is particularly suspenseful:
But her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. If he could only find it before the thing outside got in. A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage against the door. He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment he found the monkey's paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.