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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In "The Monkey's Paw," how does the author, W. W. Jacobs, set the mood and the tone? 

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The classic horror short story "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs tells of an old couple named Mr. and Mrs. White and their adult son Herbert who come into possession of a mummified monkey's paw from India that grants its owner three wishes. Sergeant-Major Morris, the previous owner of the paw, warns them not to use it. However, Mr. Morris wishes for 200 pounds to pay off their house.

In a terrible ironic turn, he and his wife receive that exact amount of money when Herbert is killed by the machinery where he works. Mrs. Morris then wishes to bring Herbert back to life. After they hear a knock on the door, Mr. White realizes that the mutilated ten-day-dead body of their son would be a thing of horror, not a comfort to them. As Mrs. White frantically attempts to open the door, Mr. White makes the last wish, presumably to return their son to the grave.

W.W. Jacobs sets the mood and the tone of this terrifying story in part 1 through the time of day, the weather, the physical setting, and the back story that Morris tells.

As the story opens, it is night, and the weather is cold and wet. Mr. White remarks on the sound of the wind even though they are in a closed-up house. He comments that their home is in out-of-the-way, slushy place where the path is a bog and the road is a torrent. This is the perfect setting for a frightening tale.

Morris's story about how he came by the paw in India is mysterious and unsettling. He says that the Fakir who put the spell on the paw warned that those who interfered with fate "did so to their own sorrow." He also says that the paw's previous owner's last wish was for death. He throws the paw into the fire, and when Mr. White pulls it out, Morris cautions him not to use it.

All of these story elements—the dark night, the foul weather, the remote setting, and Morris's back story and warning—set the dark, horrifying mood and tone of the tale and foreshadow the frightening events to come.

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The author of "The Monkey's Paw," W. W. Jacobs, sets the tone and mood of his story with descriptions of the weather and with foreshadowing

In the exposition of his narrative, Jacobs writes that the night is wet and cold. Then, as Mr. White and his son Herbert play chess, Mr. White tries to distract his son because he is a reckless player who moves without thinking through his moves. He says, "Hark at the wind," hoping his son has not noticed his reckless move. 

This recklessness of Mr. White's chess moves foreshadows his impulsive wishes on the monkey's paw, wishes that bring tragic consequences. Added to this, the description of the weather creates a foreboding atmosphere and mood.

This sense of foreboding continues as Mr. White grumbles,

"That's the worst of living so far out," bawled Mr. White, with sudden and unlooked-for violence; "of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live in, this is the worst. Pathway's a bog, and the road's a torrent."

This tone of foreboding continues with the arrival of Sergeant-Major Morris, an old acquaintance of Mr. White. He pulls from his pocket a monkey's paw, a talisman given him by an Indian fakir. But, as he mentions that he had three wishes granted by this paw, "his tones were so grave that a hush fell upon the group." 

Further in the narrative, there is more mention of the weather as stormy, descriptions which continue the suspenseful and dark mood. In the final part of the story, this mood becomes nightmarish as the Whites have been told of their son's horrifying entanglement in a machine at work. Then, when the Whites cannot resign themselves to the death of their son, Mrs. White remembers that they have two more wishes and demands that her husband wish Herbert back to them. However, their inability to think through this wish effects terror as a mood in the end of the story.

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