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The Victorian era was a tremendously exciting period when many artistic styles, political and religious movements flourished. It was the era of invention and progress and it would prove to progress a lot leaving Victorian life at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign unrecognizable. Life in Victorian times was very much based on and steeped in tradition, religion and reason. This is why they were hugely fascinated by things outside the box like ghosts, the supernatural, magic, foreign travel and Arabian nights. Foreign travel was only available to the extremely rich, the army and health services, and Arabian nights was like a fantasy land to them.
Reading about things like this was like naughty literature to them, a secret thrill that they shouldn’t be reading as it’s against there religion. Victorians were starting to think it was possible that other things could be out there, expanding there minds to different possibilities, taking in more ideas and enjoying it. The Monkeys Paw (W.W Jacobs) and The Red Room (H.G Wells) are both Victorian short stories pushing against reason and religion and filling the Victorians minds with endless possibilities. Where The Red Room is more a traditional Victorian gothic ghost story The Monkeys Paw is more to do with foreign travel, different lands and magic.
The Monkeys Paw is W.W. Jacobs’ most famous story and is considered to be a classic of horror fiction. A tale about morality, the right thing to do, the dangers of the tempting fate and messing around with things you don’t understand. It sends out a message… ‘Be careful for what you wish for’.
The opening of the story is a metaphor of society, the Victorians were very cozy in there lifestyle. Huddling together to keep England, keep ideas, keep reason, keep religion and stick to what they know but new things are trying to get in. When Jacobs wrote The Monkeys Paw the Victorians were curious about exotic far off lands and travelling, a popular saying at the time was “the sun never sets on the British empire ” By the early 1900s, England had conquered and colonized countries all over the world. The saying meant that somewhere in the world it was always daylight, and there a British colony could be found.
Jacobs uses foreshadowing, imagery and symbolism in this story to explore the consequences of tempting fate. His careful, economical creation of setting and atmosphere add suspense and tension to the tale, two of the main story themes along with fate and chance. As the story unfolds, author Jacobs provides many hints that, indeed, the monkey’s paw does possess strange powers, and that tempting fate by making the three wishes is a grave mistake…
The story begins with a contrast between a close cozy Victorian family in Lakesnam Villa that are huddled together by the warm fire, father and son playing chess whilst mother knits against the terrible cold damp remoteness of the outside world hidden behind the closed blinds. The name of the villa of which they live is named ‘Laburnum’ which is also the name of a deadly poisonous plant, making the characters home the name of a deadly plant could be informing the reader something bad could happen later on within the story so this makes the reader wonder more creating tension within the reader as they are apprehensive as to what will happen next. Down the page a bit when Mr. White puts his king into “sharp and unnecessary perils” and soon sees “a fatal mistake after it was too late” it’s a kind of mini-drama, one that tells us what is about to happen in the story. Its using foreshadowing to depict and event early on in the story that is really a big part of the plot that is soon to unfold, it’s a clever and sneaky parallel to the ending which becomes only clear on your second read.
We get our first look in at tension and suspense when the cozy atmosphere is suddenly disturbed by sudden noises such as a banging gate and heavy footsteps, it’s the best example of suspense and tension as the reader feels that there must be a reason behind a visit to such an isolated place, it also makes the reader more curious.
The banging of the gate heralds the arrival of their guest, Sergeant-Major Morris, ‘a tall, burley man, beady of eye and rubicund of visage’ his descriptive description of appearance makes impact on sight as he’s so big in the room, towering above the White family. His appearance and experience is broader and he is the catalyst for the story as he brings the monkey’s paw to the Whites’ home which will change there lives forever. Morris is both familiar and exotic. Morris and Mr. White began their lives in approximately the same way; Mr. White remembers his friend as “a slip of a youth in the warehouse,” But in his twenty-one years of travel and soldiering, Morris has seen the world and has brought back tales of ‘wild scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange peoples.’ He’s been a lot of places and seen a lot of things yet the White family cant possibly imagine going to another country, living there life in a routine and never stepping out of it but Mr. White hints that he does want to travel stating “I’d like to go to India myself,”.
Morris advises against it though saying “better where you are,” travelling isn’t all that good, better to stick to what you now instead of pushing boundaries. They’ve shared a few drinks and Morris’ eyes are brighter with his third glass of whisky at the Whites’ hearth so Mr. White now decides to bring up a previous conversation that was maybe let slip at a pub when Morris was again slightly over the limit, dropping into conversation “you started telling me the other day about a monkeys paw or something, Morris” but Morris is not keen on picking up the story that he hoped would not be brought up and discards it, stating it as “not worth hearing” and being offhanded hoping to push it aside and forget it. He’s now got all three peoples attention as the ‘three listeners leaned forward eagerly’ but he doesn’t really want it.
When he finally does tell them about the monkeys paw his ‘blotchy face whitened’ and his ‘glass tapped against his strong teeth’ he shows a lot of nervous body language clearly wanting to avoid the subject completely. He tells them of a spell put on the paw by an old fakir that “wanted to show that fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their own sorrow” which is also the moral of the story and their “light laughter jarred somewhat” using alliteration to give a light feel as they laughed uncomfortably at what he said. He says the paw gives three wishes to three different men and that he and a man before him have both had three wishes each. Mr. White deliberately doesn’t ask what Morris’ three wishes were but it appears clear they didn’t go well and Morris doesn’t offer to tell them either seeming anxious as well as nervous at this point. Circumstances soon become sad as he explains the first mans third wish “was for death” exampling the extreme power the paw has as ‘hush fell upon the group’. Morris thinks “it has caused enough mischief already” not wanting the responsibility of passing it on to any one else and the whole way through the story he’s talking with caution of not wanting them to touch it, he’s trying to warn them.
“Better let it burn” he says, he’d like to see it destroyed to put and end to it but Mr. White has other ideas “if you don’t want it ,Morris give it to me” he says back. Showing true friendship Morris wont, not wanting any blame and trying to protect his friends by keeping them out of harms way but Mr. White cant resist temptation and the excitement of playing with danger, its naughty and he knows it could have consequences but he’s on the spot, its a heat of the moment decision let it burn or try it out making the readers are curious to know more about the monkeys paw and what all can it actually do. Since there is a bad impression of the paw so far in the story the readers will also want to know what is going to happen later on and how deadly the paw can be, this sense of mystery builds suspense and tension, he has no time to think about it and just goes for it. Trying to lift the mood and break the atmosphere Mrs.
White to laugh it off “sounds like Arabian nights, don’t you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?” she says beginning to set the supper but Morris isn’t impressed with her humor, he doesn’t feel the subject should be joked or laughed about as its not a laughing matter and doesn’t appreciate her messing around with it. “if you wish, wish for something sensible” he says. There son Herbert on the other hand doesn’t believe in it anymore then he believes in Morris’ travels saying “if the tale about the monkeys paw is not more truthful than those he has been telling us”. Mr. White took the monkeys paw and gave Morris money for it although he “didn’t want it” and he ‘pressed Mr. White again to make him throw it away’ so even after being paid he wanted them to get rid of it proving he didn’t just want money for it.
The White family are at first unsure what to wish for, Mr. White says “I’ve got all I want” not being a materialistic man and being very family driven/orientated he believes that having a family, home and being comfy and safe is everything which is a very Victorian ethic but eventually they ‘wish for two hundred pounds’ to cover the mortgage and make the home there own.
Tension builds up in a mock dramatic moment as Mr. White breathes the words “I wish for two hundred pounds” as if in a tense film Herbert crashes the piano like a drum roll for dad, Jacob uses the sound effect to build tension and suspense builds up after he speaks the wish as its all silent and the reader is at edge expecting something to happen. After he wishes he drops the paw ‘with a glance of disgust’ convinced it had moved in his hand he says it “twisted like a snake” using a simile to create a strange imagery of evil things associated with bad things and bad deeds. Herbert dismisses the whole thing saying “I don’t see the money, and I bet I never shall” which is an ironic parallel to the end as he doesn’t see the money, but not because it doesn’t exist.
Outside the wind becomes ‘higher then ever’ and Mr. White ‘started nervously at the sound of a door banging’ disturbing the ‘unusual and depressing silence’ tension builds here as the cozy atmosphere changes dramatically and Mr. White is left feeling extremely unsettled about the whole thing and the fact the atmosphere has changed so much from the outside influences trying to break in. Suspense is built again when Mr. White looks into the fire and sees faces that are ‘so simian that he gazed at it in amazement’ simian meaning ape like it will shock the readers and Mr. White and we see him get fearful for the first time in the story.
The next morning is a completely different atmosphere, it changes from a scene from a traditional horror story of a noisy and scary outside and a silent dark solemn depressing inside to the scene of brightness and happiness at a typical Victorian family breakfast table as a ‘wintery sun streamed over the breakfast table’ The new atmosphere leaves the family thinking about the way they got caught up in the story the night before and allowing it to scare them silly. Mrs. White especially thinks that the fear of the night before was ridiculous saying even if the wish was granted “how could money hurt you” little does she know, it can and it’s using dramatic irony. Not believing in it didn’t prevent her from ‘scurrying to the door at the postman’s knock’ with a hint that she’s hopeful something exciting will still happen, and the money will still come.
Later on in the day she watches ‘mysterious movements of a man outside’ using a soft alliteration sound the sentence also builds suspense of who this unexpected visitor could be and what he could want. More suspense is created as he hesitates at the gate ‘trying to make up his mind to enter’. The man appears to be wealthy looking which immediately makes Mrs. White assume he is here to give them the money as she can think of no other reason that a wealthy, well dressed man would come to her house.
When he finally comes to the house she ‘apologizes for the appearance of the room and her husbands coat’ embarrassed and tense about the state of her house but he’s taking no notice creating more suspense as he looks for a displacement activity when announcing he comes from ‘Maw and Meggins’ were there son works. The wealthy man delivers the news of their son’s death in a perverted and strange way, dragging it out to build tension.
He says he’s “badly hurt but not feeling any pain” building suspension and leaving the readers on the edge of there seats wanting to know what’s happened and if he’s alright, but sadly he’s not. In the consideration of there sons services they receive a ‘certain sum’ adding the most tension/suspense of all in the story leaving readers shocked as they know what’s coming, Mr. Whites lips are dry with the fear building up inside him as he asks the question he doesn’t even need to ask, “how much”
The manner of speech in the story also creates a lot of tension, fear and suspense for
the reader. For example there are parts in the story where there are quick, short dialogues between the characters. This helps to create a lot of tension as not only is the scene tense but also the quick dialogues helps to build up tension of that particular scene. These short quick dialogues help the text to keep flowing making the scene
more chaotic and tense. Also during such conversations Jacob has intelligently used simple English, so the reader can digest the text and keep up with the fast pace of the conversation.
The best example of such a scene is the conversation between Mr. White
and Mrs. White after their son is dead and she wants him to use the
paw to bring their son back to life.
“The paw!” “The Monkey’s paw”
“Where? Where is it? What’s the matter?”
“I want it”