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Sense Of Horror In Monkeys Paw English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2784 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Jacobs creates a sense of horror in The Monkeys Paw by using a variety of literary techniques. As ‘The Monkeys Paw’ was written in 1902, Jacobs makes the story scary in ways that are very different to modern horror films and books. We can tell that the story was written in the early twentieth century as it contains many details that would have been common in Victorian literature. One of the most obvious features from ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ that tells us that the story was written over a century ago, is the old-fashioned language that Jacobs uses. The language used throughout the story contains words such as ‘rubicund’ and ‘visage’, which are not words that are commonly used today. Also, the fact that £200 was considered to be a lot of money shows that the story was from a long time ago as £200 is not seen as a large amount of money in the modern world. Other aspects of the story also show that ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ was written in the Victorian time period – the fact that India was seen as a new, exotic and unexplored country tells us that the story must have been written in a time when transport wasn’t as easily available as it is today. In the story, when the Sergeant-Major tells the Whites about his exploration, they seem almost in awe of him as he is seen to be the bravest and most adventurous person that they have ever met because of his journey to India. The fact that Jacobs used a Sergeant-Major character is also another typical feature of Victorian literature. Finally, the household objects that the Whites use in ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ show that the story was not set in modern times. For example, the Whites use candles for light and heat their kettle on a fire as there was no electricity in Victorian times.

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As ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ was written over a century ago, Jacobs doesn’t use explicit gory details to create horror like modern scary films and books. Instead, he uses subtle hints in most aspects of the story to build up an element of terror and one of these aspects is the way that Jacobs uses setting. The main way in which Jacobs uses setting to increase the tension in ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, is the way that he creates contrast between the wild outside weather and the cosy atmosphere inside the Whites’ home. At the beginning of the story, Jacobs describes the night as ‘cold and wet’, whereas Jacobs describes the Whites’ home by writing ‘the fire burned brightly’. This contrast makes the reader associate the outside with dark, cold and bad while associating the inside with light, warm and good. There is one thing that is keeping the White family safe from the badness of the outside, and that is the blinds. The blinds are drawn in part 1 of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ when the Whites are a cosy, normal family protected from grief and terror. However, in part 3 of the story when Mrs White is looking for Herbert to come back from the dead, Jacobs writes ‘the old woman, with burning eyes, walked to the window and raised the blind’. I think that the blind is a symbol for a barrier that protects the Whites from the danger of the outside and when Mrs White raises the blind to look for her son she lets some of that danger into her home. Also, the visitors bring some of the danger and badness from the outside into the Whites’ home when they visit. For example, when the Sergeant-Major visits, he brings the monkey’s paw which changes the Whites’ lives forever and when the worker at Maw and Meggins visits, he brings the news of Herbert’s death. It is clear that throughout the story, Jacobs corresponds the outside atmosphere to the mood of the characters. For example, in part 3 of the story, the house is ‘steeped in shadow and silence’ which is much like the couple, as there is no longer any banter or chatter between them after Herbert’s death. For this reason, the reader is lulled into a false sense of security when they read about the ‘wintry sun’ and ‘prosaic wholesomeness’ at the beginning of part 2. The reader thinks that this sunny weather and ordinary atmosphere will correspond to the characters’ moods. However, a little later on, the Whites discover about Herbert’s death; this leaves the reader feeling shocked as they would have been expecting the Whites to have a normal day, when instead the Whites receive horrific news of their son passing away. Finally, we know that the house is very isolated as Mr White says at the beginning of the story ‘that’s the worst of living so far out’. This adds to the suspense in part 3 of the story as we know that the Whites are alone and there is no one that can help them.

Another way in which Jacobs creates horror is through his use of characterisation. Firstly, we get to see the happiness of the White family right from the beginning of the story. There are many examples of their close-knit, normal family life throughout part 1 of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ such as Mr White and Herbert playing a family game of chess at the beginning of the story. The Whites are generally presented as pleasant and ordinary people. Therefore, when their first wish upon the monkey’s paw comes true but at the price of their son’s life, we are even more shocked at their misfortune as they seem to be just a normal family and not foolish people who have no common sense. The fact that Mr and Mrs White are elderly also adds to the sense of danger in the story as they are seen to be more vulnerable than younger people may be. In part 3 of the story, Jacobs uses contrast in the characters’ moods for a dramatic effect. At the beginning of the story, the couple are chatty and make jokes with each other which makes a light family atmosphere. However, in part 3 of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, Mr and Mrs White have radically changed into uncommunicative couple who ‘hardly exchange a word’ as they have ‘nothing to talk about’ after their son’s death. This huge contrast makes the reader realise the enormity of the effect that Herbert’s death has had on Mr and Mrs White. This effect is also portrayed through Mrs White’s newly irrational behaviour throughout part 3. She is constantly having mixed emotions – ‘she laughed and cried together’ – which show that she is not in control of her feelings and she has ‘wild’ ideas about bringing her son back from the dead. Finally, another way in which Jacobs creates drama through his use of characters is by showing that the Sergeant-Major is unwilling to talk about the paw. The Sergeant-Major is described as ‘doughty’ which makes us think that that he is very brave, so his reluctance to talk about the paw shows us that if even an extremely courageous soldier is too scared to talk about the paw, then it must be an incredibly strange and frightening object that shouldn’t be messed with.

Jacobs also creates a sense of tension in ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ by building up the suspense throughout the different parts of the story. The structure of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ is like many pieces of Victorian literature; it is separated into three short chapters. In part 1, we get to see how close the White family are, the monkey’s paw is first introduced and the first wish is made. At this point in the story, we don’t know the power of the paw so we aren’t as frightened as we are later on in the story. However, the Sergeant-Major’s reluctance to talk about the paw leaves us with questions. We wonder if wishes on the paw do come true, why the Sergeant-Major is wary of the paw and we also wonder what wishes the Whites will make. These questions make us want continue reading the story to discover what happens. Part 2 of the story begins on a seemingly ordinary day – ‘there was an air of prosaic wholesomeness’. This lulls the reader into a false sense of security because they think that they were foolish for having fears of the monkey’s paw as it seems to be such an ordinary day. The tension then starts to build when Mrs White spots the suspicious and ‘mysterious’ man from Maw and Meggins outside of the house. Then, when Herbert’s death is revealed, the reader is even more shocked because of the huge contrast to the seemingly normal start of the day. The news of Herbert’s death also leaves the reader with even more questions. We ask ourselves whether wishes on the monkey’s paw do actually come true or if the compensation of £200 was just a freakish coincidence. This, again, makes us want to read further into the story to find out the answer to our questions. The description at the beginning of part 3 sets the scene for the rest of the story; it is night time and Mrs White is weeping. We associate these details with badness and we therefore are expecting for something scary to happen in the next part of the story. From the moment that Mr White makes the second wish, the tension is built up throughout the rest of part 3 by the increasing speed of the knocks and Mrs White’s attempt to open the door. The suspense is only relieved right at the end of the story when Mr White makes the third wish. This way, the reader feels scared for the longest time possible which creates the greatest sense of fear.

Another way that Jacobs creates a sense of horror in the story is by withholding the full information from the reader to create a sense of mystery. For example, the reader does not know if the £200 compensation for Herbert’s death is related to the paw or whether it is just a coincidence. We never find this out, even at the end of the story, and so there creates an element of mystery about the whole story. We are also left wondering about other questions at the end of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, such as whether wishes on the monkey’s paw actually do come true and whether Herbert did actually come back from the dead. These questions make us discuss and think about the story even after we have finished reading it, and this is a sign of a successful story. Also, Jacobs withholds information in another aspect of the story when he doesn’t tell us what Herbert’s mangled body looks like. Jacobs writes that Mr White says ‘I could only recognise him by his clothing’ when describing Herbert’s body. This is very powerful as it makes us imagine Herbert’s body being far more contorted and gory than Jacobs could possibly describe with words. Also, in part 3 of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, Jacobs doesn’t give us any information about Herbert. Instead of writing something like ‘Herbert the zombie approached the house’, Jacobs is much cleverer in his use of language to build up the tension. He does not mention Herbert once; instead he increases the suspense by describing the ‘fusillade’ of knocks on the door. This way, Jacobs keeps the mystery of the monkey’s paw in tact as he does not state that the knocks are definitely coming from Herbert, for all we know, the knocking could just be a figment of the couple’s imagination. Finally, senses are another thing that Jacobs removes from the characters to increase the tension in the story. Depriving the characters of some of their senses in parts of the story increases the tension as the characters are having something that is vital to them removed; this increases their level of fear. For example, in part 3 when Mr White goes downstairs, it is very dark so he is deprived of his sight. He has to use touch and sound as his main senses to be able to get around. Jacobs writes that Mr White ‘felt his way to the parlour’ before he ‘lost the direction of the door’. By removing one of his senses, he loses the direction of where he is going which shows just how fundamental senses are and what effect being deprived of them can have. Jacobs goes on to prove that that Mr White is scared at losing his direction by saying ‘his brow cold with sweat’. When Mr White is scared in this part of the story, we empathise with him which makes us feel frightened too.

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A reason why we empathise with the characters is the way that Jacobs uses of language. The Whites’ dialogue is very realistic and believable – it makes the Whites seem like real people which makes the reader feel sympathetic towards them. Also, the Whites just seem like an ordinary family as they make jokes with each other and at the start of the story they are playing chess and knitting by the fire. They do not seem like greedy or foolish people so we empathise with them at their misfortune of having their wish come true but at the cost of their son’s life. Another one of the main language tools that Jacobs uses in ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ is irony. Jacobs creates irony throughout the story which makes the eventual horror even more shocking. For example, in part 2 of the story, Mr and Mrs White seem happily contented with their lives as they are making jokes and seem to be a close couple. Then when they receive the news of Herbert’s death, the reader is taken aback at this news as the couple seemed to have a perfectly good, normal life before Herbert’s death. Other examples of irony in the story are the way that Herbert says goodbye when he is going to work and the way that Mrs White makes comments about waiting for Herbert to come home. Herbert says ‘before I come back’ and Mrs White says ‘when he comes home’ which are both referring to Herbert’s return. This is ironic as they do not know that Herbert will not be returning. Another language technique that Jacobs uses to create horror is sentence structure. For example, when Jacobs is describing the Whites at the start of the story, he uses long sentences like ‘Father and son were at chess, the former, who possessed the idea about the game involving radical changes, putting his king into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment from the white-haired old lady knitting placidly by the fire’ that go into a lot of detail to describe what is happening. However, when the story becomes more tense, Jacobs uses short sentences to show the change in pace of the story and to build up a sense of panic. For example, in part 3 when the couple hear the first knock, the suspense increases dramatically and Jacobs shows this by using a series of short, simple sentences such as ‘A third knock sounded through the house’. The final way that Jacobs uses language to create horror in ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ is simply through the choice of the words that he uses. The way that he describes things creates powerful, scary imagery. Jacobs can make even the most ordinary household objects seem terrifying. For example, when describing a candlestick he writes ‘[the candle-end] was throwing pulsating shadows on the ceiling and walls, until, with a flicker larger than the rest, it expired’. This description gives the most powerful sense of imagery as Jacobs makes the candle seem alive by saying that it has a pulse. The use of the word ‘pulsating’ also makes the reader think of the Whites as they are very tense at this point of the story and their pulse rate is probably very high due to their nervous anticipation of seeing whether their wish has come true.

I think that WW Jacobs is a very powerful and intelligent writer who has cleverly used every possible feature in the story of ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ to create a sense of horror. The literary techniques that he uses are very typical to those of most short stories written in Victorian times. Personally, I think that these techniques, such as the mystery of the unknown, are a great deal scarier and build up a much better sense of tension than present day horror stories. Modern horror films and books mainly use gore, wounds and blood to create the element of disgust that generates the most profit. However, I think that Jacobs cleverly uses subtle details and suggestion in ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ to develop a sense of throughout the story, and this is what creates a classic horror story that really plays with the reader’s mind.


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