In W.W. Jacob's "The Monkey's Paw," what mood is created by the dialogue between the Whites and Sergeant Major Morris?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the start of W.W. Jacob's "The Monkey's Paw," the dialogue between Sergeant-Major Morris and the Whites at first creates a mood of mystery and curiosity.

While Mrs. White moves away from the mummified paw with distaste, her son leans forward with an avid curiosity. A mood of fascination and nervousness is created in the Whites in hearing the soldier's description of the paw:

"It had a spell put on it by an old fakir," said the sergeant-major, "a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it."

His manner was so impressive that his hearers were conscious that their light laughter jarred somewhat.

The atmosphere becomes slightly tense when the visitor explains that he has taken his three wishes, and in the telling, his face turns white and his tone becomes grave.

After the sergeant-major throws the paw into the fire and Mr. White retrieves it, their visitor removes himself from all responsibility for what may happen in the future, which is chilling.

"I threw it on the fire. If you keep it, don't blame me for what happens. Pitch it on the fire again like a sensible man."

As the family laughs and jokes about their wishes from the paw, the sergeant-major remains serious and concerned, as he advises Mr. White sternly.

"If you must wish," he said, gruffly, "wish for something sensible."

By the time Sergeant-Major Morris departs, the mood of the family has become one of playfulness. The Whites are curious, but they are also able (in their ignorance) to joke about the paw. However, the mood is divided, in a sense. While the Whites are entertained and playful about the subject of the paw, the sergeant-major never jokes about it. He is cautious with the family from the moment he begins to speak about it.

In that the visitor had personal experience with the paw, the reader might imagine the family would take the subject more seriously. However, they do not. As the old visitor mentioned, some people saw it merely as a fairy tale, as the Whites seem to do.