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Written by Timothy Sexton
WITHOUT, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlour of Laburnam Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly.
The opening line of the story effectively and remarkably tersely fulfills one of the greatest necessities for a story that impinges upon the macabre or horrific: it creates a setting and mood perfectly appropriate for the strange tale that is about to come. A story like “The Monkey’s Paw” could certainly have been effective at the time of original publication if the mood was set with a description of a bright, sunny, cloudless day. It just couldn’t possibly retain quite the same power to instill with the reader right from the beginning the same depth of morbid expectations of doom.
"That's the worst of living so far out…of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live in, this is the worst. Pathway's a bog, and the road's a torrent.”
Another terrific example of how Jacobs so effectively sets the tone for his story. Firstly, by putting this descriptor into the mouth of a character, it becomes more palpable than if it had been mere narration. This is subjective opinion of place, not objective description. Secondly, the subjective opinion subtly informs us that Mr. White is not exactly what you might call content with his lot in life. And, finally, what fantastically evocative imagery! Any reader who can’t picture quite clearly just exactly where this story is set geographically and topographically speaking by the time they reach the end of Mr. White’s tirade probably just needs to pack it in and go rent a movie version or watch the parody of “The Monkey’s Paw” on one of the earliest entries in the Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror Halloween anthology specials.
"What was that you started telling me the other day about a monkey's paw or something, Morris?"
Mr. White’s query is the first time that monkey’s paw is mentioned by name. The brusque manner in which Morris hastily changes the subject provides a bit of foreshadowing while further underlining the disquieting mood set up by the descriptive opening line.
"It had a spell put on it by an old fakir.”
Eventually, however, Morris will inevitably spill the beans about the talisman. Proving the quality to fill quite a bit of meaning with quite a short sentence, the author only needs a dozen words—give or take—to provide the reader with more than enough information about the monkey’s paw to allow each individual to take off on their own flight of fancy. Provided you are familiar with what fakir is, that one sentence carries the potential power to project an IMAX-sized image inside the confines of the average head.
"They admit no liability at all, but in consideration of your son's services they wish to present you with a certain sum as compensation."
In a story with a plot that is so far removed from reality, it becomes essential for the purpose of maintaining its effectiveness as horror to situate the story within a world as recognizably ordinary as possible. Perhaps no other quote from “The Monkey’s Paw” feels quite as real as this one in which business and insurance collude to deny responsibility and escape punishment. Of course, the arrival of a messenger with a token payment for a human life also lends the consequences of the wish upon the paw with a believability in the argument that everything which seems to occur as a result of the supernatural is, in reality, mere coincidence.
“He wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow.”
He is still speaking of the fakir here and this quote can effectively serve as the story’s overarching theme. Just like Frankenstein is a warning about tampering in God’s domain, this macabre little tale is a warning about trying to tamper with fate. One might say it is the secular version of that warning about God’s domain. Or at least the non-denominational version.
"For God's sake, don't let it in."
The final wish upon a monkey’s paw seems to become true in a way every bit as gruesome as the first two. The feverish horror with which Mr. White is trying to convince his wife on the subject of entry is in reference to the resurrected mangled corpse of his son. Most interesting about this quote, however, is the singular importance of the pronoun choice that Mr. White utilizes in reference to the specter of his reconstituted child come back home on the wings of a wish that worked too well.
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The game of chess illustrates Mr. White's willingness to take chances in accomplishing a task. He distracts his son to win a game of chess, in the same way that he sacrifces his son for the sake of 200 pounds.