illustration of an open-faced monkey's paw with a skull design on the palm

The Monkey's Paw

by W. W. Jacobs

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"The Monkey's Paw" is a horror story. How does the setting create a mysterious and frightening atmosphere?

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Author W. W. Jacobs uses several devices to create the creepy atmosphere found in "The Monkey's Paw." The setting is an out-of-the way location and most of the story takes place at night, punctuated by wind and rain. The subject matter--the paw of a monkey--immediately draws the interest of virtually any reader. The mysterious nature of the paw and its origins further intrigue the reader; and the "three wishes" powers that it offers should make any reader stop and think about what three wishes they would choose. The sergeant's decision to fling such a powerful object into the fire for its destruction creates more mystery, and when the first wish comes true in such terrifying reality, we can only wonder what can come next. Jacobs' use of the supernatural should attract new readers in greater numbers today, since fantasy and horror stories and films are among the most popular with today's readers.

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In "The Monkey's Paw," written by W.W. Jacobs, the author's description of the setting contains key elements necessary for creating a setting that adds to the horror of the story.  In the first paragraph, Jacobs writes that 

...the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlor of Laburnam Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly..."   

Immediately, the reader is given a mental image of a dark, stormy night in which an intimate gathering takes place in a secluded setting.  These details create a sense of distance from safety, as well as being surrounded by an atmophere in which anything is possible, particularly anything evil.  Had the setting been a Southern front porch on a warm spring day, the element of horror would have been significantly more difficult to convey.

The author's description of a room illuminated by firelight also contributes to the notion of mystery and fright.  Shadows and darkness are virtually synonymous with fear.  The power of the mind to create scenarios and dreadful possibilities is what creates the power of horror stories.  Flickering, unsteady firelight is perfect for a scary story. 

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