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Both 'The Monkey's Paw' by W.W. Jacobs and 'The Black Veil' by Charles Dickens create a sense of mystery, suspense and foreboding. How do the authors achieve this and how effective are they?

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Louise Collins Both 'The Monkey's Paw' by W.W. Jacobs and 'The Black Veil' by Charles Dickens create a sense of mystery, suspense and foreboding. How do the authors achieve this and how effective are they? Charles Dickens was one of the most popular writers in the history of literature. He is most famous for his enormous collection of short stories, which contains 'The Black Veil', this was a reflection of his childhood and his observations of the world around him. W.W. Jacobs is a lesser-known author; he had a fascination with sinister and horrific themes, like many filmmakers today. His most famous short story is 'The Monkey's Paw'. Both author's stories were written pre-19th Century. The atmosphere, when the stories were being read, was made more mysterious and frightening because the century they were living in held public hangings. Death surrounded them everyday; this made the stories seem more real. Both stories begin by setting the scene; they produce contradiction between a threatening and cold world outside to a harmonious and warm inside, like a shell protecting those within. Hostile environments are displayed in both tales, 'The Monkey's Paw' is set on a 'cold and wet' night in an isolated house, in the White family's road, only two houses of which are occupied. The White family seems more vulnerable within their living room, where a 'cosy' fire is 'burning brightly,' this conveys a warm and happy family in an isolated and depressing area. The setting of the doctor's surgery in 'The Black Veil' is like that of the White's house, outside the surgery is 'wet and cold' but is then contrasted by the security and warmth of 'the little parlour' with it's 'cheerful fire'. The weather outside is described in an onomatopoeic fashion, as the wind 'rumbles' in the chimney; it creates a vividly sinister sound. This could be an attempt by the author to show the outside threat to the domestic harmony within seem more real to those who read the story or listen to it. ...read more.


The tension is built up by the actions of Herbert; coincidentally he is the one who suffers the consequences of the wish. He plays a few 'impressive chords' on the piano; however, when the last 'fine chord' is played they are 'greeted' by a 'shuddering cry from the old man'. The family is alarmed and rushes to his side. Mr White's reaction to the monkey's paw is dramatic, he states that 'it twisted like a snake in my hand'. The simile used tells us of the sudden movement made by the paw. Snakes are associated with evil; this makes the paw seem more sinister and deadly. A sense of fear has been established throughout the household, this represents a turning point in the story. The cheerful atmosphere in the family has changed to bemused. The weather hazards become heightened, 'the wind was higher than ever' and the house becomes increasingly insecure, 'the old man started nervously at the sound of a door banging upstairs', therefore, making the outside threat real once again. The paw is obviously still playing on their minds', as an unusual silence is apparent. Herbert's vision in the flames is an omen of terrible things to come, when he gazes into the 'dying flames' he sees 'horrible' faces. The way in which the author has described the fire as 'dying' suggests a fatal occurrence will happen. The fire itself symbolises danger and hazards; this warns us something disastrous is going to happen. The attention then returns to the paw when Herbert goes to grab water to throw upon the fire but instead 'grasps' the monkey's paw. His reaction towards this fatal warning shows his fear of the paw as he goes to bed with a 'little shiver'. Dickens vivid description of Walford and the surrounding neighbourhood creates a strong sense of foreboding. By describing the houses, residents and the natural features it makes us wonder what may happen to the doctor in such a hostile place. ...read more.


However, the tension is again heightened by Mrs White's hysterical demand to wish for the return of her son from the grave. She 'quivers with excitement' at the idea of having her son again, whilst her husband fiercely warns her, 'I could only recognise him by his clothing. If he was too terrible for you to see then, how now?' However, the woman is so obsessed by the thought of 'her baby' being returned to her, she doesn't think of the consequences that may arise. The way in which Mr White 'regards the talisman fearfully' suggests he never wanted to make the wish but was forced to by his overpowering wife. As the candle expires a sense of foreboding is created; this signifies the return of their deceased son. When Mr White goes to retrieve a new candle, at the foot of the stairs, he hears a 'quiet and stealthy knock sound upon the door'. As this knocking on the door becomes increasingly louder a struggle ensues between husband and wife. The frantic Mr White searches for the paw to reverse the wish before Mrs White manages to unbolt the door. This creates lots of suspense and contributes to the climatic end to the story. A 'perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the house,' at this moment the creaking of the bolt is heard and 'his third and last wish' is granted. The knocking ceases suddenly and 'the street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road,' the suspense is lost and the reader is left wondering and to an extent in a state of disbelief. In conclusion, both stories achieve a sense of mystery, suspense and foreboding. However, I think ' The Monkey's Paw' is more effective because it achieves all three requirements to a superb level. 'The Black Veil' isn't as successful and the ending is poor compared to the dramatic suspense of W.W Jacob's story. More foreboding and suspense is created around the paw whereas only a certain amount of mystery and secrecy is made by the veil. ...read more.

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