What is the mood of "The Monkey's Paw," and when in time does it take place?  

Judging from the publication date (1902) and clues in the story itself, "The Monkey's Paw" takes place in the early 1900s. Jacobs artfully alters the mood throughout the story, which begins with the White family spending a quiet evening in front of a warming fire and ends ten days later with the horror of the realization of what might be knocking at the Whites' front door.

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"The Monkey's Paw," by William Wymark Jacobs (known as W. W. Jacobs) is a gothic short story first published in 1902 in a collection of short stories entitled The Lady of the Barge. There's no specific reference in the story to the year in which the events of the story occur, but clues to the time period of "The Monkey's Paw" can be found in the date of its publication and in its place within the canon of the author's other written works, many of which were short stories about the misadventures of English sailors out of their element in cities and towns in the early 1900s.

Other clues to the time period of the story can be found in the story itself. Mr. White says that Sergeant-Major Morris, who visits the Whites and gives them the monkey's paw, was stationed in India for the past twenty-one years. In 1900, Great Britain was at the midpoint of its hundred-year rule of India, during nearly a quarter of which the Sergeant-Major experienced "wild scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange peoples."

Another reference to the time period is that Herbert White, the son of Mr. and Mrs. White, works at an unspecified job at a factory owned by Maw and Meggins. The man who brings the news about Herbert's accident at the factory to Mr. and Mrs. White "stooped and picked a piece of cotton from his trousers," which implies that Herbert works at some sort of textile mill.

Working conditions in textile factories in the early 1900s were dangerously unregulated, and accidents such as that suffered by Hebert—"He was caught in the machinery"—were unfortunately very common.

The fact that the man from Maw and Meggins was given orders to tell the Whites that "Maw and Meggins disclaim all responsibility" and "admit no liability at all," for Herbert's accident is typical of the time period. It's unusual, however, that despite disclaiming any liability for Herbert's accident, Maw and Meggins gave the White's compensation for Herbert's death, particularly since the amount was two hundred pounds—equal to about twenty-five-thousand pounds (about thirty-three thousand dollars) in today's money.

The mood at the beginning of the story seems fairly calm and domestic. Although the weather is cold and there's a rainstorm making the pathway "a bog" and the road "a torrent," Mr. and Mrs. White and Herbert are spending a quiet, comfortable evening at home by the brightly burning fire, waiting for a visitor. Mr. White and Herbert are playing chess, and Mrs. White, a "white-haired old lady," is "knitting placidly by the fire" and occasionally commenting on the game.

The mood is one of "eager interest" while the Sergeant-Major regales the Whites with his stories. The mood changes to a much keener interest and fascination when the talk turns to the subject of the monkey's paw.

Mr. White makes the first wish on the monkey's paw, which twists in his hand "like a snake," causing Mr. White to make a "shuddering cry." When the two-hundred pounds that Mr. White wished for fails to appear, an "unusual and depressing" silence settles over the room, until the sound of a banging door upstairs breaks the silence and frightens Mr. White.

In time, "the old couple rose to retire for the night," leaving Herbert alone in front of the dying embers of the fire, in which he sees a face "so horrible and so simian" that he throws a glass of water on the fire to extinguish it. Then, he goes up to bed.

The next day, the rain has ended and the winter sun is shining brightly. The mood in the Whites' house lightens considerably from the night before, and there's laughter at Herbert's frivolous remarks about the monkey's paw and the wish that his father made for two-hundred pounds which never appeared.

Herbert goes off to work, and the day progresses in a light mood all the way to dinner.

"Herbert will have some more of his funny remarks, I expect, when he comes home," she said, as they sat at dinner.

The mood turns sinister, however, when the man from Maw and Meggins arrives to tell the Whites about Herbert's accident and death. The Whites are horrified when the man gives them two-hundred pounds in compensation for Herbert's death—the same amount of money Mr. White wished for on the monkey's paw the night before.

The mood is somber at the cemetery for Herbert's burial, and afterwards, the White's house is "steeped in shadow and silence." A "hopeless resignation" descends on Mr. and Mrs. White for the next week, until Mrs. White suddenly realizes that they have two more wishes left on the monkey's paw.

Mrs. White excitedly cries out for Mr. White to find the monkey's paw. Her face "white and expectant," with "an unnatural look upon it," Mrs. White orders Mr. White to wish that there son was alive again. Protesting that "it is foolish and wicked" to make such a wish, Mr. White nevertheless fearfully succumbs to Mrs. White's fervent desire to bring their son back to life.

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

When nothing happens, a calm if oppressive mood seems to settle on the Whites' home. Mr. White "crept back to his bed, and a minute or two afterward the old woman came silently and apathetically beside him."

After a while, there's a knock at the door, and there's a sudden burst of activity from Mr. and Mrs. White as Mr. White searches for the monkey's paw and Mrs. White tries to open the front door to let in who she believes is her son, returned from the dead.

Mr. White finds the monkey's paw and makes the third wish just as Mrs. White throws open the front door.

The mood of the story as Mr. and Mrs. White run out to the gate and look on "a quiet and deserted road" lighted by a flickering street lamp is entirely dependent on the reader. It might be a mood of sadness, disappointment, or relief, or it might induce a shudder at the though of the horrific sight Mr. and Mrs. White might have seen at their front door if Mr. White hadn't "frantically breathed his third and last wish."

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on November 30, 2020
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Another mood found in Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw" is light-heartedness. The family takes the story of the paw as entertaining and fun rather than seriously at first. It's as if it was just a good spooky story told in front of the fire rather than non-fiction. For example, Mrs. White jokes that the story sounds like something one would have read out of The Arabian Knights. She goes on to say that she would like an extra pair of hands to help her out in the kitchen. But Herbert is the biggest jokester of the family. He comes up with the most playful things to say to his parents about wishing on the paw as follows:

"If the tale about the monkey's paw is not more truthful than those he has been telling us. . . we shan't make much out of it. . . Why, we're going to be rich, and famous, and happy. Wish to be an emperor, Father, to begin with: then you can't be bossed around. . . I expect you'll find the cash tied up in a big bag in the middle of your bed. . . and something horrible squatting up on top of the wardrobe watching you as you pocket your ill-gotten gains"

The joking around brings in a fun, light-hearted mood which helps to contrast the gloomy, bewitching, depressing mood that follows soon after. Because Herbert brings in a fun, joking, and sarcastic mood, accepting his death becomes harder than it probably would have been if he had been a sulky or belligerent son.

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"The Monkey's Paw" is a Gothic short story. This sub genre of Romanticism aims to use the darker aspects of reality and add specific elements that would intensify their role in the story for the purpose of mood. 

Often, Gothic stories will show the following "staple" traits:

  • a remote location
  • inclement weather
  • inevitability of fate
  • death surrounding the plot
  • the lowest ebbs of human emotion: tragedy, desperation, sadness, insanity
  • the presence of the supernatural

As such, "The Monkey's Paw" reunites all of these factors making the mood fluctuate from happy and upbeat (at first), to gloomy, scary, and desperate toward the end.  

At first, we have a couple playing chess during a dark, windy and rainy night, presumably isolated. Fate is about to knock on the door in the form of the Sergeant Major and the entrance of the actual monkey's paw. Death will come in the form of the news of the couple's son, and the insanity and despair that will ensue will come as a result of all the elements working together.

The ending, which leaves the reader in complete suspense is a clever literary technique that adds even more intensity to the potential outcome of the story. In turn, the ending which plays with the reader's imagination so that it provides its own closure to the tale. 

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"Creepy" and "foreboding" are two descriptions of the mood that prevails in W. W. Jacobs' short story "The Monkey's Paw." The story begins on a wet, cold evening, and most of the story takes place at night. The White's house is an out-of-the-way place. The introduction of the mysterious monkey's paw adds the first touch of horror to the story, but it is the paw's history and magical power that draws the reader deeper into the tale. The sergeant-major's warning about the paw and his wish to destroy the object raises even more questions: Why would an object with such powers be evil? How could the granted wishes be unwanted? The answers are provided after the first wish comes true; the family comes into a small fortune, but only at the cost of son Herbert's tragic death. What will the other wishes bring? What wishes will be asked? As the sergeant-major warned, only evil comes from the paw, and the subsequent wishes provide even more horrors to the unsuspecting Whites. 

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To me, the mood in this story is very dark and surreal.  Maybe you could say that it is a very gothic mood.

From the very beginning of the story, we feel a darkness.  It is night and it is not a pleasant night either.  The rain is falling and the wind is blowing.

Then, once the monkey's paw makes its appearance, things get darker and more surreal.  All of a sudden, black magic becomes a part of the story.  We get a feeling of great foreboding as Morris brings out the paw, talks about the curse, and throws it on the fire.

From there, the story only gets more unhappy and more surreal as we see things like monkey faces appearing in the fire, tragic death, zombies and grief.

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The Monkey's Paw takes place in the early 1900s. The mood that the author is trying to create is consistent with that of a horror story. The story actually contains some elements of Greek tragedy: it starts out hopeful and happy and ends with despair and tragedy.

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Mood refers to the feeling the author wants the reader to understand as they read.  W.W. Jacobs uses mood very successfully in this story. 

He creates a mood of loneliness, depression, and misery through his words.  For example, when he says:

"The cold light of the winter moon cast a slant of light on far wall, capturing the shadow of the hunched old woman as she peered expectantly at the graveyard."

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