How does the opening scene of "The Monkey's Paw" help to create a mood of mystery and uneasiness?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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W. W. Jacobs creates an eerie sense of ominous foreboding in the opening scene of his short story masterpiece, "The Monkey's Paw." The cold, wet weather and the wind outside helps to create the sense that Mother Nature is presenting a warning to the family inside, warm at the fire. The Whites live "so far out" in an "out-of-the-way place," yet they are anxiously waiting a visitor on such a dreary night. Jacobs' use of vocabulary also presents a sense of the macabre: In the chess game being played by father and son, Mr. White puts his king in "unnecessary perils" before "grimly" sensing his "fatal mistake." The usually quiet father "bawled... with sudden and unlooked for violence" when he spoke of their visitor's trek to their home before the words "died away on his lips." 

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andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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W.W. Jacobs's diction and the images he creates all add to the mysterious mood of unease. Firstly, we are told that "the night was cold and wet," an image that depicts discomfort. "Cold" and "wet" are the opposite of warmth and conviviality and create a mood of misery and gloom. This depiction is enhanced by the fact that "the blinds were drawn," indicating an air of secrecy that adds to the mysterious atmosphere. Although Mr. White and his son are involved in a game and a fire is burning in the fireplace, the atmosphere is quite tense because the two are in combat on a chessboard—a game full of intrigue and suspense. The fact that they are indulged in such an intricate pastime, which involves thrust and counter-thrust and requires both players to keep their wits, enhances the enigmatic nature of their surroundings and heightens the suspense.

Jacobs's diction consistently alludes to danger and risk. He states, for example, that Mr. White was "putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils," which creates a sense of foreboding. The reader knows that these descriptions foreshadow an imminent danger. Something unpleasant is going to happen to this family at some future date. The diction alludes to tragedy and death, as in "having seen a fatal mistake, it was too late." This suggests that the forthcoming fateful event or events will not be predictable and that our characters will only realize their folly when it is too late. He is "grimly surveying the board," which suggests something dire.

Furthermore, the fact that they live so far out and are isolated adds more to the mystery. Mr. White refers to their home as a "beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way place to live in." This statement adds to the uncomfortable and unhappy mood. The fact that "the gate banged too loudly" and that "heavy footsteps came toward the door" further enhances the mystery and eerie atmosphere surrounding the Whites and their home.