In "The Monkey's Paw," how does W. W. Jacobs create suspense or tension in the story?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In W. W. Jacobs's "The Monkey's Paw," tension and suspense are created through foreshadowing, characterization, and mood. First, when Mrs. White asks Sergeant Major Morris if his three wishes were actually granted, the description of his reaction to this question is as follows:

"And did you really have the three wishes granted?" asked Mrs. White.

"I did," said the sergeant major, and his glass tapped against his strong teeth.

Both foreshadowing and characterization are used to create suspense at this moment because of the way Morris acts. His behavior suggests that the consequences of his wishes must have been terrible; and if the paw is used again, there will be dire future implications. In fact, when Mr. White asks how to use the paw, the way Morris explains the process of wishing is accompanied with a warning, as follows:

Hold it up in your right hand and wish aloud. . . but I warn you of the consequences.

Sergeant Major Morris continues to act with fear and caution as the Whites take more interest in the paw. He also warns them a couple of other times to either forget to wish for something completely or at least to wish for something sensible. Again, Morris's behavior not only warns the Whites of problems wrapped up in wishing with the paw, but also foreshadows possible future problems.

Finally, mood is used to create suspense in the story through descriptions of the weather and the Whites' behavior. For example, after Mr. White wishes for money, the men calmly sit down by the fire to smoke their pipes, but the weather and Mr. White's behavior are described as follows:

Outside, the wind was higher than ever, and the old man started nervously at the sound of a door banging upstairs. A silence unusual and depressing settled upon all three, which lasted until the old couple rose to retire for the night.

As the family waits to see if wishing on the paw will produce results, Mr. White seems tense and easily startled. Also, forceful winds, along with a dark and startling atmosphere in the house, create suspense and tension for the characters after the wish is made. These descriptions suggest there might be a supernatural and destructive connection between wishing on the paw and nature. Indeed, the anticipation of waiting for the results of the wish create tension and suspense on its own as well.

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The Monkey's Paw

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