In The Monkey’s Paw written by W.W. Jacobs and The Red Room written by H.G. Wells, there are many similarities and differences in the ways the stories are written and suspense created. For example, both stories belong to the horror genre where the supernatural appears due to human interferences, and both have a fast and frantic climax where the characters’ lives are put in jeopardy. However they do differ in places, one of the key differences being that The Monkey’s Paw is written in third person whereas The Red Room is a narrative.
W.W Jacobs uses many different techniques in The Monkey’s Paw to build up an atmosphere of suspense and uneasiness. One way this is done is by Jacob’s description of the White family’s location, a bleak, desolate and isolated place. The fact that it is so far away from any built up area indicates to the reader that if something were to happen to them, then they would be very vulnerable,
“of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live in, this is the worst”.
The words Mr White uses to describe the area creates an element of mystery. Jacobs builds up suspense even further by describing the wintry weather. Typical of many stories in the horror genre, “the night was cold and wet”, and at night in the middle of nowhere, the slightest sounds or movements seems a lot scarier. Jacobs creates a conventional horror story setting where the reader expects something to go awry.
However the mood and setting of the outside is a sharp contrast to the warm, inviting interior of the Laburnum Villa. Here Jacobs creates a friendly family scene where the “fire burned brightly” and the father and son play a game of chess. Here the warmth and safety of the inside juxtaposes the cold and danger of the outside. The reader begins to wonder for how much longer this perfect balance can be maintained in the story, building up an element of fear and suspense.
The reader’s question is soon answered when the Sergeant along with the monkey’s paw arrives disturbing the equilibrium. When the Sergeant first introduces the monkey’s paw, the family seem quite curious about it, asking a string of questions. However the Sergeant only answers with tantalizingly short answers such as “I have” and “I did”. The Sergeant also tells them of the wishes the past owners have made “The first man had his three wishes… I don’t know what the first two were, but the third was for death”. This makes the Whites (as well as the reader) wonder whether the paw really does bring bad luck. This secrecy drives their curiosity even further to the point they buy the paw. Once they are in possession of it, they begin to wonder whether it will actually work, but they simply dismiss is it as a superstition.
Their attitudes are shown when Mr White wishes for two hundred pounds and Herbert jokes “I expect you’ll find the cash tied up in a big bag in the middle of your bed”, this sarcastic remark that Herbert makes, demonstrates to the reader their laid back attitudes towards it. However there are differences of opinion within the family. While Herbert laughs at the monkey’s paw, Mr White is quite afraid of it. This is shown when he is holding the monkey’s paw and “with a little shiver he wiped his hand on his coat”, because he shivered we know that he feels uneasy being around it and that he is disgusted by it. Due to the mixture of attitudes, the reader isn’t sure what to believe, creating an air of mystery and tension.
Jacobs not only uses the characters’ attitudes to create suspense but also their dialogue, which brings a sense of immediacy and authenticity to the story. For example, Mrs White suddenly shouts out wildly “The paw!.. The monkey’s paw!”. This immediately accelerates the pace of the story and builds up suspense as the reader doesn’t know what has caused Mrs White’s uproar. Later on, the suspense is augmented by the couples short and sharp sentences and questions such as “Think of what?” and “We’ve only had one”. These curt and abrupt sentences bring out the immediacy and desperation of the couple, embedding their own nervousness into the reader.
Jacobs uses his characters even further to build up suspense by describing their physical reaction as well as their dialogue. Mr White’s “brow cold with sweat” shows us how his fear has lead him to the point of sweating proving that he is afraid of the wish he just made. This also convinces the reader that the paw holds forces not to be reckoned with and that if Herbert did come back it would be a horrific rather than cheerful moment.
Also Mr White “caught his breath” when ordered to find the paw, showing that he was scared and dreaded the moment when he would have to wish for his son back as he knew it would lead to doom. This realisation of the potential hazards they would face if Herbert were brought back creates fear and suspense. The description of the character’s physical actions is very useful, as it depicts the emotions and thoughts of a character to an extent that dialogue cannot.