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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How does W. W. Jacobs create horror in The Monkey's Paw?

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Setting and characterization help create a gloomy, foreboding mood in the short story "The Monkey's Paw."

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In "The Monkey's Paw" Jacobs creates a sense of horror in several ways. First, he opens the story with a scene of calm domesticity. This gives us something to threaten and upset.

Second, he gives a symbolic foreshadowing in the first paragraph, when he speaks of the characters playing chess and putting their pieces into "sharp and unnecessary perils." What's more, the old woman watching can see that these moves will lead to danger, but no one listens.

Third, when the story develops, the soldier who has seen a lot doesn't want to share the story of the monkey's paw; he warns them, just as the old woman warned the chess players. This continues when he tells them it is better to let the paw burn, and that the other man's third wish was for death.

Fourth, as the wishes play out, the atmosphere is developed by the wishes going wrong, and by the couple being unable to resist the power of the magic at the same time they are realizing things will always go wrong from it.

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How does author W. W. Jacobs create a dark and dreary mood, giving hints of impending doom, in his short story "The Monkey's Paw"?

In the short story "The Monkey's Paw," setting is one aspect author W. W. Jacobs uses to create a dark and dreary mood that foreshadows impending doom. The story is set during a stormy night, as we see in the opening sentence when the narrator states, "Without, the night was cold and wet." We further see the storminess of the night when Mr. White comments to his son, "Hark at the wind," meaning listen to the wind, which was obviously furiously howling. Storms create an unsafe environment; therefore, they help create gloomy, unsafe moods that foreshadow upcoming disasters. However, interestingly, the narrator also describes the blinds of the windows being drawn and that the "fire burned brightly" to indicate that the family was concealed from the dangers of the storm outside and warm and safe within their home. This juxtaposition of comfort and safety with the dangers outside helps to signify that any upcoming doom can easily be swapped for the continuation of comfort and safety, depending on the characters' choices.

Characterization also helps to portray the gloomy mood and foreshadow upcoming doom. In particular, within the opening paragraphs, the narrator describes that Mr. White is playing chess with his son by the fireside and makes a "fatal mistake" with his king. He tries to distract his son from noticing the mistake by drawing his son's attention to the howling wind. When that doesn't work, Mr. White starts complaining "with sudden and unlooked-for violence" about living so far away and how the town doesn't see fit to keeping up their road or pathway. Mr. White's mistake in judgement while playing chess and his sudden, violent complaining help characterize him as impulsive, and impulsive people are apt to make the sorts of mistakes that lead to doom.

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