With close reference to the story’s language, structure and content, explain how successful you think Jacobs is in creating an atmosphere of suspense, drama and terror in ‘The Monkey’s Paw’?
The Monkeys Paw, written by W.W. Jacobs in 1902, is a typical example of late Victorian storytelling. At the time it was written, horror was a popular genre, and could be mass produced thanks to the new found ‘printing press’. H.G. Wells, who wrote in a similar style to Jacobs, also made short stories popular, as did the change in socio-economic factors.
Another reason these short stories were so popular was because the standards of reading and education had been greatly improved since the mid 1800s, so that by the late 1800s and early 1900s, reading material was in great demand. Thanks to the printing press, these stories were also cheap and quick to produce, often in magazines. They were also cheap for the public to buy, as an alternative to a novel by Charles Dickens or another writer of that time.
As travel in these times was in its early stages, with the plane being developed, this left the boat as the only real way to see the world, taking months to get to somewhere like India or Australia. This meant that people who were fortunate enough to travel to far away lands, often came back to tell factous tales, and exaggerate what the place was really like. This led to a lot of myths and legends being made up, such as the Monkeys Paw. As the people of this era were not as well educated as we are today, they took these myths and stories to be true, and ultimately, were scared by them.
In the stories opening, the mood amongst the characters is a relaxed one, with Mr White and Herbert playing chess and Mrs White knitting placidly by the fire. This is shown by the quote “Without, the night was cold and wet” which is saying that outside it was very bad weather and not very nice, but inside it was calm, which relates back to the mood and atmosphere of the story, set by Jacobs.
“…Of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live in, this is the worst. Path’s a bog, and the road’s a torrent.” This quote is again an example of Jacobs setting the scene in the story, comparing the weather once more to the atmosphere inside the house. This also creates a dark and ominous atmosphere, typical of a horror story where an atmosphere of terror and suspense is established.
“Father and son were at chess; the former, who possessed ideas about the game involving radical changes, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils…” This quote tells the reader that the father is open to taking risks, which becomes more evident later on in the story. This is also a calm opening to the story, however the story does not remain calm…
“…This visitor from distant parts…spoke of wild scenes…and strange peoples.”
“Well, it’s a bit of what you might call magic…” This is referring to the Sergeant Major that comes to visit, telling tales of mysterious lands, and then pulls out the even more mysterious monkeys paw.
” ‘I wish for two hundred pounds,’ said the old man distinctly. A fine crash from the piano greeted the words, interrupted by a shuddering cry from the old man. His wife ran towards him.
‘It moved, ‘ he cried, with a glance of disgust at the object…” This adds tension to the scene, as it makes clear from the start that the monkeys paw should be taken seriously and should not be ‘messed with’ in the way that Mr White has just done.
“…It twisted in my hand like a snake.” The choice of the word ‘snake’ in that simile is fitting because snakes come from places like India, as does the monkeys paw. Also, the devil takes the shape of a snake in the Bible, which portrays evil in the paw.
The final chapter begins with a description of a “cemetery” where “the old people buried their dead” and the dark mood is set in the opening paragraph. Throughout this chapter there is a growing sense of terror and the story moves relentlessly to its mysterious ending. The language becomes increasingly frenzied as the paragraph moves on, some examples are as following;
“She cried wildly”
“He started up in alarm”
“She said hysterically”
“Good God, you are mad!”
“He went down in the darkness…”
“His brow cold with sweat”
“He was afraid of her”
“He sank trembling into a chair”
“He was chilled with cold”
“A knock, so quiet…the knock was repeated…A loud knock…There was another knock and another”
“The knocking ceased suddenly”
The structure of the story also adds to the tension and terror. At the beginning of the story, the atmosphere is calm, and then in Chapter 2, it changes for the worse and Herbert dies because of Mr Whites greed in wanting the ï¿½200. It also adds tension because the mysterious stranger that comes to deliver the bad news takes a long time to reveals what has happened, but then when he does, he reveals that they are getting their ï¿½200, but in compensation for their sons death.
Another adding of mystery and tension comes with the symbolism of the number 3, as there are 3 chapters, 3 members of the White family, 3 wishes and the stranger stops 3 times before entering the White house to deliver the bad news.
The fathers final wish is not really said to the reader, and Jacobs leaves it to the readers own imagination to think what the wish was. But it is clear that whatever it was, it stopped the advance of whatever was at the door of the White house.
With close reference to the story’s language, structure and content, it is clear that Jacobs creates an atmosphere of suspense, drama and terror in ‘The Monkey’s Paw, I think that Jacobs has been very successful in creating a horror story, using suspense drama and terror, however due to today’s film culture and the ability to travel, people today would not be as scared by this as people would have been when this was written in 1902.