How does the author create suspense?

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mizzwillie | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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In the short story, The Monkey's Paw, suspense is a mainstay of the story.  The author achieves suspense in several ways. One way is to have the story take place late in the evening when it is dark and candles must be lit.  Another is to have the visitor be nervous about showing the paw and explaining why it should be feared as one previous owner had asked for death as his third wish.  When the Sargeant Major is asked about his three wishes, he says he has used them but will not discuss it which should warn the Whites. Imagery like the fire also creates suspense. Fire starts the evening as warmth and here it becomes a source of fear.  When the visitor throws the paw onto the fire, Mr. White grabs it for himself in the flickering light of the fire and against the visitor's advice. At this point, the reader suspects that no good will come of the paw.  When the news comes the next day of Herbert's death at work and the award of 200 pounds in money, Mr. White knows the curse of the paw to be true.  The wife is grief stricken and asks for her son back with the reader in suspense wondering if the dead son will appear.  Mr. White manages to prevent the figure from the son's grave from appearing at their front door through a last second wish.  The wishes and their son are now gone with a lonely life ahead without the comfort of their son.

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The best example of how the author creates suspense comes toward the end with the knocking at the door.

At the foot of the stairs the match went out, and he paused to strike another, and at the same moment a knock, so quiet and stealthy as to be scarcely audible, sounded on the front door.

The first knock is "quiet and stealthy." Why?

The matches fell from his hand. He stood motionless, his breath suspended until the knock was repeated.

This second knock may have been equally "quiet and stealthy."

Then he turned and fled swiftly back to his room, and closed the door behind him. A third knock sounded through the house.

This knock is so loud it can be heard all over the house.

"What's that?"cried the old woman, starting up.

He tells her it was a rat.

A loud knock resounded through the house.

The third knock "sounded" but the next knock "resounded." Obviously it was much louder.

There was another knock, and another.

Herbert's mother is trying desperately to open the door.

A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the house...

This sound us worse than ominous. The word "fusillade" suggests gunfire. It makes the reader imagine that the terrible creature is going to break the door down and has hostile intentions.

The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house.

Jacobs creates much of the suspense and horror at the end with descriptions of the increasingly loud knocking. The reader is relieved when Mr. White makes his final wish and the knocking suddenly stops. We will never know for sure whether it was Herbert, but the probability leaves a lasting impression of dread.

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