What words help create the atmosphere at the beginning of "The Monkey's Paw"?

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plajohnson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think we can agree that The Monkey's Paw is a pretty spooky/creepy story. So let's read over the first chunk of it and look for words that give us a spooky or uneasy feeling. 

I find that atmosphere can be a difficult concept to grasp. What helps me when it comes to atmosphere or tone is to imagine a different word in place of the word that is actually there in the story. So for each atmospheric word we go over, I'll try to show how another word would have created a different atmosphere or tone in the story.

Without, the night was cold and wet

In the first line, we've got two adjectives that begin to set up the atmosphere of the story for us. Something that is cold and wet is unfriendly, uncomfortable, and makes us feel uneasy. Alternatively, if it was a warm and star-filled night that would create quite a different scene!

Okay, let's find three more words that set up the atmosphere/tone.

Later, when Sergeant-Major Morris is asked about the monkey's paw, he claims that the story about it is:

"Nothing," said the soldier hastily. "Leastways, nothing worth hearing."

He said this hastily. We often do things hastily when we don't really want to do them. If Sergeant-Major Morris had said the words warmly or laughingly we would have a much different idea of how he feels about the monkey's paw. Since he gives his answer hastily, we can guess that he doesn't want to talk about the monkey's paw.

Finally Morris does start to talk about it. When Herbert tells Morris to take his three wishes, Morris says:

"I have," he said quietly, and his blotchy face whitened.

Again, Morris is not speaking of the monkey's paw loudly or proudly. He is speaking quietly. Speaking quietly is often associated with fear or shame. This adds to the mystery and fear around the money's paw.

The fact that Morris's face whitens is also telling. People usually go pale when they are scared. If his face had turned red, we might infer that Morris became angry. His pale face adds to the mysteriousness and fear of the monkey's paw and adds to the spooky atmosphere of the story.

I hope this helped!

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The Monkey's Paw

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