In what way does the setting, decribed in lines 1-21, suggest or foreshadow later events?  

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The opening lines of "The Monkey's Paw" evoke the picture of a happy, cosy little family living in an isolated new housing development surrounded by barren acres. The weather is very bad--which in fiction often foreshadows trouble. Mr. White gives a vivid description of the exterior setting in an outburst of temper after he loses a game of chess to his son Herbert.

"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. I don't know what people are thinking about. I suppose because only two houses in the road are let, they think it doesn't matter."

In the last part of the story there will be someone knocking at the front door. It could be Herbert returned from  the dead in response to Mr. White's enforced second wish. On the other hand, it could be pure coincidence: it could be some stranger who is lost in these dark, forbidding surroundings and is trying to get directions. The fact that there are "only two houses," one of which belongs to the Whites, makes it seem unlikely that it would be a stranger in need of assistance and much more likely that it is indeed Herbert. Furthermore the condition of the pathway and the road make it seem unlikely that a normal human being would be out there in that weather at that time of night. Early in Part II, Mr. White had repeated to Herbert what he had been told by Sergeant-Major Morris:

"Morris said the things happened so naturally," said' his father, "that you might if you so wished attribute it to coincidence."

If "things happened so naturally," how could the dead and mangled Herbert be standing out there knocking at the door? What could be natural about that?

So the reader cannot be sure whether he will see a horrible monster or a harmless stranger if Mrs. White gets the door open? And after Mr. White makes his third wish, the reader will never know.

The cosiness of the little isolated home described in the opening lines of the story serve will serve as a contrast to the coldness, darkness, and emptiness of the house after the Whites' only son is dead and buried. As the story opens, Mr. White and his son are playing chess. Mrs. White is described as:

the white-haired old lady knitting placidly by the fire.

The fireplace is mentioned frequently throughout Part I. It suggests brightness, warmth, comfort, and coziness--all the things that will be lost to the old couple when their lighthearted, witty son is killed in a factory accident. Part III opens with a description of the same house after the Whites return from burying Herbert.

In the huge new cemetery, some two miles distant, the old people buried their dead, and came back to a house steeped in shadow and silence.
The house will seem dark, cold, and cheerless for the rest of the story.The opening lines of Part I are intended to emphasize the probability that it will be Herbert out there knocking louder and louder after Mr. White makes his second wish. These opening lines are also intended to prepare the reader for the radical change that will take place in the lives of the two old people after they lose their son. The despondency and emptiness felt especially by Herbert's devoted mother are what motivate her to force her husband to make his second wish. 

"Wish!" she cried, in a strong voice.

"It is foolish and wicked," he faltered.

"Wish!" repeated his wife.

He raised his hand. "I wish my son alive again."

Under pressure, he does not think of wishing his son to be the same Herbert he was before. Instead, he realizes too late that he may have been resurrecting a monster.

 

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