How is tension created and sustained in "The Monkey's Paw"

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How is tension created and sustained in “The Monkey’s Paw”

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.

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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 ...

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