How does author W. W. Jacobs create a dark and dreary mood, giving hints of impending doom, in his short story "The Monkey's Paw"?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the short story "The Monkey's Paw," setting is one aspect author W. W. Jacobs uses to create a dark and dreary mood that foreshadows impending doom. The story is set during a stormy night, as we see in the opening sentence when the narrator states, "Without, the night was cold and wet." We further see the storminess of the night when Mr. White comments to his son, "Hark at the wind," meaning listen to the wind, which was obviously furiously howling. Storms create an unsafe environment; therefore, they help create gloomy, unsafe moods that foreshadow upcoming disasters. However, interestingly, the narrator also describes the blinds of the windows being drawn and that the "fire burned brightly" to indicate that the family was concealed from the dangers of the storm outside and warm and safe within their home. This juxtaposition of comfort and safety with the dangers outside helps to signify that any upcoming doom can easily be swapped for the continuation of comfort and safety, depending on the characters' choices.

Characterization also helps to portray the gloomy mood and foreshadow upcoming doom. In particular, within the opening paragraphs, the narrator describes that Mr. White is playing chess with his son by the fireside and makes a "fatal mistake" with his king. He tries to distract his son from noticing the mistake by drawing his son's attention to the howling wind. When that doesn't work, Mr. White starts complaining "with sudden and unlooked-for violence" about living so far away and how the town doesn't see fit to keeping up their road or pathway. Mr. White's mistake in judgement while playing chess and his sudden, violent complaining help characterize him as impulsive, and impulsive people are apt to make the sorts of mistakes that lead to doom.