illustration of an open-faced monkey's paw with a skull design on the palm

The Monkey's Paw

by W. W. Jacobs

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What is the setting of the story and how does it affect the events in "The Monkey's Paw"?

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In the story "The Monkey's Paw," the setting is an isolated, out-of-the-way place that floods with heavy rainfalls.

This deserted setting contributes to the Gothic atmosphere of the narrative as the guest's arrival is noted by the sound of the gate banging and heavy footsteps. Their visitor is listened to with eagerness since such visits by others are rare. Further, Sergeant Morris's tales of India are all the more fascinating to the Whites who have such isolated lives. For, had another family who were more cosmopolitan sat with the soldier, they may not have afforded him the captive audience that the Whites are. 

Then, too, if Mr. White were around more people and more involved with outside interests, he might not have recalled having heard his friend's tale of the monkey's paw and asked the sergeant about it. When the sergeant dismisses this tale by quickly replying, "Nothing....Leastways nothing worth hearing," Mrs. White's curiosity is aroused and she asks, "Monkey's paw?" also because her life is rather mundane.

 So, the sergeant produces the monkey's paw and describes its powers with the Whites as a rapt audience. Had they led a busier and more sophisticated life in another area, they may not have expressed such an interest in the occult tale and then, of course, the bizarre and tragic chain of events would not have happened.  Perhaps, too, the Whites would have wished for something else if their environment were different as they may have had more interests to captivate their desires, such as going on a voyage.

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When and where does "The Monkey's Paw" take place? Does the setting affect what is happening?

W. W. Jacob's short story "The Monkey's Paw" is set exclusively in and just outside of the White's home of Laburnam Villa in England. It is likely set at the start of the twentieth century, probably when the story was first published in 1902.

Outside the home, we see a gloomy, dark, and wet setting that is often associated with Victorian Era England. However, the interior of the home is a cheerful, comfortable, and delightful refuge from the elements outside, at least at the start of the story. As the story progresses, the setting and mood inside the house change to compliment the feelings of the characters. After Herbert dies, the once cheerful home becomes "steeped in shadow and silence."

In a way, the time period of this setting affects some of what happens. It appears that Herbert's death at work is the result of the magic of the monkey's paw. However, this was also a time when unsafe working conditions in factories were getting a lot of scrutiny. It is likely that the author chose to have Herbert die this way because such an event would have been familiar to the readers at the time.

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