Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “The Monkey,” repeated motifs, observations, allusions, and images indicate character and foreshadow action. For example, The Great Bear, the bear hunt, Athena fighting like a bear—all reveal Athena’s strength and prepare the reader for her victory over Boris. The monkey as the prioress’s Geheimerat or privy councillor, the monkey taking an intelligent interest in a game of cards, the monkey scattering pages dealing with witches’ trials and marriage contracts, the monkey sitting in the place of Cupid’s statue, the identical monkey of the count’s lawyer, the double-faced Wendish idol of a woman and a monkey—these suggest the sinister movement of the story without robbing the reader of the thrill of suspense.

The third-person narrative is varied and adequately adjusted to the writer’s purpose throughout the story. It starts out with a detached, matter-of-fact description of people, places, and events, building up to a world of romance into which unicorns might step, as Boris imagines on his way through the forest to the count’s house. The romantic and hopeful mood changes on his way back, for the forest becomes threatening with fearful forebodings conjured up by shadows and sounds, frightened horses and glinting eyes. Then, through the supper scene, the bizarre fight, the next morning’s climactic dialogue, and the shocking finale, the sense of evil keeps mounting. The “hard” look of the prioress, indicating cruelty, is mentioned more than once. Her thin, pointing finger—a familiar gesture of a witch—and her odd habit of scratching herself here and there with that finger—a familiar gesture of a monkey—link the dual roles, unmistakably and mysteriously. Dinesen thus has the reader gripped in suspense throughout.