"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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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."