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The Monkey’s Paw is a short, horror story written by WW Jacobs. It was written and set in the 19th century in a time where there was almost an obsession with the gothic, Victoria genre. Jacobs uses a range of techniques which create and add tension of the audience.
The setting, structure, genre, characters, language and atmosphere all contribute to the ascending build up of tension throughout the story. The setting of the story is typical of the time in which it was set. There are many clues given by the author, which help us to distinguish the time period in which the play was set.
Items such as ‘the china candlestick’ and ‘the fire’ would not be used commonly today because of the introduction of electrical heaters etc.
Furthermore, when Mr white says: “A rat. It passed me on the stairs”, we find it difficult to comprehend this. This is because we would find a rat scuttling around in our houses today extremely peculiar and probably unbelievable whereas Mr and Mrs White do not seem to make much of a fuss about it because it may have been normal in that time. The rat may have been common then, in a time where plague and diseases were very active.
This all contributes towards the spooky/horror theme of the story which creates a feeling amongst the audience that they expect something to happen.
The setting/atmosphere created in the story is very carefully thought out by the author. It starts with the father and son playing chess together, indicating that they have a close relationship and the family is close-knit. The family are in the warmth of their cosy home, at least the author gives this impression to us anyway, “the fire burned brightly. Father and son were at chess”.
This image given to us by the author is very ironic because they may seem safe at the moment but later on we come to find out that they are far from it and are in fact extremely insecure. The weather is described to us as being, “cold and wet”, which has depressing, gloomy connotations which is therefore in complete contrast to the atmosphere inside. This signals a change in the plot, and the with the cold, wet weather, the author is almost hinting to use that something negative is going to happen in the story.
Therefore, the reader is encouraged to read on because of the tension that has been created. However, the weather outside also reflects the mood of Mr. White who is upset after losing the chess match, so therefore it is pathetic fallacy, which in turn creates an eerie mood. Another significant factor in the setting of the story is Sergeant-Major Morris’s introduction of India. Since India is a foreign country, the audience may not be so familiar with it. Therefore, they would not be too sure what to expect of the monkey’s paw in terms of its powers and therefore mystery is created.
This leads to the curiosity of the reader, creating tension as the reader gets eager and wants to know what will happen. The family live in a villa, away from everything, which gives us the impression they are isolated; Mr White says, “That’s the worst of living so far out ….. Only two houses in the road are let”. This tells us that they live in a very secluded area, away from a town or city. By situating the family in this area, the author is hinting to us that something bad is going to happen because the thought of them with nobody else to help them if something goes wrong makes them seem vulnerable to us.
Furthermore, Mr White saying to us that only two houses in the road are let enhances the idea that they are isolated because that means only two of the other houses are occupied. Sergeant-Major Morris is an extremely mysterious character. We seem to imagine him as a gigantic, mean, imposing, muscular man when hearing of his arrival because of the “heavy footsteps”, which he makes as described so by the author. His arrival is somewhat sprung on use and we do not get to know much about him until he starts conversing with the Mr White and family about the paw.
Therefore he is almost like an unknown character to us. Once Mr White mentions the Monkey’s Paw, he seems eager to change the subject: “Nothing’ said the soldier hastily”. This tells us that he was not keen to disclose information about the Monkey’s Paw and was clearly hiding some details at the beginning. Once he realises the others are interested in the paw, he tries to play down its powers: “it’s just an ordinary little paw dried to a little mummy”.
The reason for him acting this way is not clear to us at first but later on we get to know that the reason for this is because he has bad experiences with it. We know this because of his reaction when being asked is he had used his three wishes, “his blotchy face whitened”. This indicates that he has had some bad encounters with the paw because one’s face usually whitens when feeling sick, shocked or frightened. However, he does warn the White’s about its powers, “it has caused enough mischief already”, although he prevents himself from revealing the full details of these events for some reason.
It is also ironic that he says to the White’s, “don’t blame me for what happens”, and “but I warn you of the consequences”, because although there are plenty of strong warnings, the White’s seem disinterested but in the end they pay for this i. e. Herbert’s death. On the whole, Sergeant-major is a mysterious character of whom we know little of. He seems to be hiding something about his experiences with the Paw. His character creates an eagerness in the audience resulting in tension. Another character who contributes to the tension created in the story is Mrs White.
From what she says (her speech), we get to know that she is quite suspicious: “He don’t look to have taken much harm”, is what she says when responding to something the sergeant said. This tells us she is not scared to point something out, and is prepared for an argument if she does not agree with somebody. It also tells us that she may know something about the sergeant that we do not. Similarly, she is very curious about the monkey’s paw and is surprised upon hearing of its powers, “Sounds like Arabian nights”, she says.
Here, she is mocking the sergeant major, making a mockery of a highly respected figure. It also tells us that she is a very curious person. This suspicious, curious attitude of hers adds to the tension. However, Mrs White’s attitude to the paw very much changes towards the end of the story. After learning about the death of her son, Herbert, she wants to bring him back by using the powers of the paw. This is in high contrast to her attitude at the beginning when she thought it was just a toy. She urges her husband to wish for Herbert back using the paw: “Wish’ she cried in a strong voice”.
This tells us of her eagerness to bring Herbert back, indicating she loves her son very much. During the climax, the language devices and style used by the author are all very interesting, and were all created in order to create a rush of tension at the end. The sentences used at this point in the story are shorter ones in comparison to the more complex and compound sentences used beforehand. Sentences such as, “His wife sat up in bed listening”, “Let go” and “I must open the door” are use by the author in order to increase the pace of the story and to create anxiety amongst the audience.
The sentences are short in order to delay the point of climax, so that the audience find the ending of a better quality. There are also short bursts of action at this point in the story to get the reader excited about what will happen, “and frantically breathed his third and last wish”. This is probably the part of the play where the tension is at its highest because the audience are holding their breath as to what it going to happen. The adverbs used by the author help to create this tension because words such as ‘frantically’, ‘hoarsely’ and ‘appealingly’ give us an insight to the actual feelings of the characters.
This helps us because then we can relate to the characters. In conclusion, I can say that in the monkey’s paw the author uses a variety of methods to create tension. These include characters, setting, structure, language and style. Overall, I would say that Sergeant-Major Morris is the person who contributes to providing the most amount of tension in the play. His mysteriousness and whole demeanour just makes the audience think that something bad is going to happen in the play because of him. I also think that the climax used by WW Jacobs was a very clever way to build up a lot of tension.