‘The Monkey’s Paw’ is a short story written by W.W. Jacobs. The story revolves around a mummified paw of a dead monkey which is a talisman that grants its possessor three wishes. The wishes come true but with an enormous price. To generate the enigma and horror the writer has implemented techniques of scene setting, choice of time when the incident occurs, use of situation and events, dialogues and description of the characters etc. that greatly contribute to build up the horror in the story.
One of the most effective techniques used by the writer, in the story is the setting. The opening scene is a cold, damp night in an English village on the edge of a moor. The house, Laburnum Villa is situated in a secluded out of the way place. It is isolated and lonely. It is winter and this scene is set at night and to add gloominess to the setting, it is raining. This description adds the dark tone in the setting, which signifies evil. Mr. White the owner is not at all happy with the location of his house as it is isolated. He calls his place ‘beastly’, slushy’ and ‘out of the way’, with this the writer prepares the readers for anything to happen. The opening scene where Mrs. and Mr. White with their son are in the sitting room, we are told they are waiting for a guest. Throughout in the story an element of ‘wait’ is added to bring about the curiosity. From the first scene to the last the Whites as well as the readers are anxiously waiting for something to happen. The strong wind blowing outside is suggestive of the impending doom. The storm outside prepares the readers for the storm to come in the lives of the three members of the family. The writers has very effectively used intermingling of the alternating mood of somber events, anxiety, grief, cheerfulness and light heartedness of the family which is unaware of the tragedy that is going to fall on them. The complicated situations and the simplicity of the nature of the characters bring that necessary contrast in the story which is very important.
The technique of description of events or incidents, dialogues, narrations and actions are used effectively to build a feeling of horror. The explicit mention of far of oriental lands, and stories related to jugglers, magicians and fakir’s, the mummified monkey’s paw that has a spell cast on it, sets the mood for some super natural happening. The spell put by the old fakir that “fate ruled people’s lives, and that, those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow,” governs the whole story. They make the readers curious to know how this spell is interpreted in the story.
The writer prolifically uses descriptions especially with adjectives and dialogues to create an eerie atmosphere like ‘his blotchy face whitened’, “his tones were so grave that a hush fell upon the group”, “but I warn you of consequences”, ‘death’, ‘horror’, “but if you wish, wish for something sensible”, the contrasting situation between – outside ‘The wind was higher than ever’, and inside “Silence unusual and depressing’ constantly generate apprehensions about the forthcoming events. The incidents like the movement of the paw like a snake on asking for the first wish and when Herbert is seeing faces in the fire add to the horrifying effect. The use of this incident that though Herbert pretends not to believe in the powers of the paw yet he is afraid, deep in his heart shows that the faces he sees in the fire are a projection of his own fears. The story ends when it is night and dark outside.
By this time the readers have experienced varied emotions of happiness, gloom, sorrow, fear, horror, suspense and all these add to the setting of the atmosphere that the author is preparing us for. The element of supernatural is inter woven throughout the story and is so convincing that the readers also make up their mind not to interfere with the ways of destiny and fate. The writer has very effectively used the technique of foreshadowing. There are hints given to the readers from time to time about what is going to happen. Mr. White we are told is a very impatient man. he has been warned by Morris that he should be sensible while asking for a wish, he was not sensible and so the tragedy occurred. The writer W.W. Jacobs has used symbolism to create the desired effect. In the beginning there is a mention of the fire place which is symbolic of the warmth that exists in the family. When Morris throws the Monkey’s Paw into the fire it suggests that he wants to get rid of the spell or magic put on it. When the tragedy is to fall on the family the candle in the room is blown out. This symbolizes the impending darkness that is about to prevail on the family. The oncoming hollowness, the emptiness and the desolation, in the lives of Mr. and Mrs. White are represented by the view of the deserted road, when she opens the door, and nobody is there, it is all empty and desolate. The climax of the story when Mr. White makes the second wish of getting his son back to life from grave and then the realization that dawns on him about how mutilated Herbert’s body was, he tries to convince his wife not to open the door at the knocks and then he seems to have actually matured when he makes a third wish of sending the ghost of Herbert back.
The author has amalgamated different techniques of scene setting, mood setting, occurrence of events, dialogues, actions etc. perfectly well to successfully produce an element of horror in the story which can be almost perfectly visualized by the readers and enough to send a chill down their spines.