"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."