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Tone in The Monkey's Paw
A Light-Hearted Beginning: The story’s tone begins with a stormy night, but inside the Whites’ house it’s warm and welcoming. As the story progresses, the weather becomes progressively unpleasant and darker as well. The descent is gradual rather than immediate.
Repetition as Warning: Furthermore, a sense of ominousness is created by the repeated warnings from Morris about the dangers of using the paw, especially the warning that everyone who has used the paw has later regretted it.
A Suspense-Filled Conclusion: As something approaches the Whites’ door later in the story, the tone is one of suspense, as readers wonder what exactly is on the other side of the door. Coupled with that is Mr. White’s sense of urgency as he struggles to make his final wish.
Tone Examples in The Monkey's Paw:
"The last face was so horrible and so simian that he gazed at it in amazement...." See in text (I.)
The adjective “simian” means “monkey-like.” Herbert’s vision of a monkey’s face in the flames doesn’t bode well for him. It suggests that the paw’s power to grant wishes is real and that perhaps they should have listened to Morris’s warnings. However, there is also a rational explanation for Herbert’s visions: he’s up late and has been drinking, so he’s susceptible to seeing horrible things in the fire. Notice also how this is one of the few times the narrator sticks to Herbert’s thoughts rather than Mr. White’s.
"A fine crash from the piano greeted the words, interrupted by a shuddering cry from the old man. His wife and son ran toward him...." See in text (I.)
These lines leave readers in suspense, wondering what caused the crash and if Mr. White is okay. In this way the tale’s suspense benefits from the distant narrative voice, allowing readers to make discoveries at the same time as the characters.
"He darted round the table, pursued by the maligned Mrs. White armed with an antimacassar...." See in text (I.)
W. W. Jacobs does not entirely abandon his humorist roots; this moment of slapstick comedy where Mrs. White chases her son around the house with an “antimacassar”—a noun which means a “clothing covering to prevent staining on the back of a chair”—is a stark contrast to the darkness in the rest of the story.
"four pairs of hands for me?"..." See in text (I.)
Notice how Morris’s reaction contrasts with the others’. While they joke about trivial things to wish for, he knows the true power of the paw. Once readers learn the paw’s method of granting wishes, they can see the dark humor in this line and why Morris reacts so strongly.
"If you keep it, don't blame me for what happens. Pitch it on the fire again like a sensible man."..." See in text (I.)
This Morris’s final warning to the Whites. Recall the chess game earlier: Mr. White carelessly puts his chess pieces in danger, not realizing that he has made a mistake until too late. A “sensible” man, rather than a reckless one, would get rid of the paw, but Mr. White is too reckless to consider that option at this time. Morris’s statement here serves to remove him from all blame of whatever happens, showing that he believes in the paw’s power and genuinely fears it.
""I don't know what the first two were, but the third was for death...." See in text (I.)
What’s left out of Morris’s retelling is not as important as what remains. The man’s first two wishes don’t matter; all that is necessary to know is that they did not make him happy, so he chose to wish for death. Again, the tone of conversation around the paw is one that sparks both curiosity and a sense of menace.
"the way that middle age is wont to regard presumptuous youth. "I have," he said, quietly, and his blotchy face whitened...." See in text (I.)
Notice how Morris is situated in a position of experience while Herbert represents youthful inexperience. It is clear that whatever Morris remembers, it causes him great distress, which contrasts to the smart curiosity of Herbert. Whatever the paw’s powers, it clearly changes people for the worse, setting an ominous tone and foreshadowing the consequences of using the paw’s powers.
""Well, it's just a bit of what you might call magic, perhaps," said the sergeant-major, offhandedly...." See in text (I.)
This line is a little tongue-in-cheek. Morris’s “offhanded”—meaning “casual”—way of bringing up magic suggests that he not only has seen quite a lot of magic during his time in India but also that it’s now a mundane event to him. Though he tries to sound casual about the monkey’s paw, the Whites are intrigued by it after his admission that it’s magic. It could be argued that Morris deliberately piques the family’s interest, but readers have no insight into his motivations. The tone shifts, then, from wonder at the exotic to curiosity about the paw’s powers.
"of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live in..." See in text (I.)
Mr. White’s outburst shows both his dissatisfaction with his current situation and sets the stage for a desolate encounter with horror. Because of the family’s isolation, they are beyond easy reach of help in case of any emergencies—now a classic horror trope.
"Without, the night was cold and wet, but in the small parlour of Laburnam Villa the blinds were drawn and the fire burned brightly. ..." See in text (I.)
This opening sentence sets the tone for the first part of the story: although outside the night is dark and stormy, inside the family is warm and safe together. Protected from the elements, they are able to thrive, content with one another’s company.
"In the brightness of the wintry sun next morning as it streamed over the breakfast table he laughed at his fears. ..." See in text (II.)
The day outside is beautiful in contrast to the stormy weather of last night. In the light of day, the paw’s power seems nonexistent. The tone is now one of lightness rather than the ominous atmosphere of the previous day. At this point, the paw and its magic hold no sway over the Whites’ home.
"But her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw...." See in text (III.)
A countdown has begun: Can Mr. White find the paw and wish the corpse away before Mrs. White lets it inside? The tension and tone of urgency is at its peak here.
"don't let it in,"..." See in text (III.)
Notice Mr. White’s choice of pronoun: “it” instead of “him.” This word choice betrays his fear. He truly believes that on the other side of the door is a mangled, reanimated corpse, not his son. This adds to the suspense of the scene, as husband and wife argue about what to do about the knocking.
"The candle-end, which had burned below the rim of the china candlestick, was throwing pulsating shadows..." See in text (III.)
The atmosphere is growing increasing creepiness and suspenseful: the candle is burning out, the air is getting colder, and sinister shadows are flickering on the walls. As the Whites wait for Herbert to reappear, the environment reflects Mr. White’s growing unease.
"Even his wife's face seemed changed as he entered the room...." See in text (III.)
Recall how in the first section Herbert saw the fire morph into terrifying faces. The repetition of a formerly comforting image—a fire, a loving wife’s face—changing into something terrible contributes to the threatening tone bearing down on Mr. White.
"a house steeped in shadow and silence...." See in text (III.)
Like the previous two parts, the house’s atmosphere is described in the first sentence. With Herbert gone—the Whites’ only child and the source of much of their happiness—there is no joy left for them to come home to. This sets the tone for the rest of the section: unhappy and dark.
"resignation--the hopeless resignation..." See in text (III.)
The repetition of "resignation," especially paired with "hopeless" in the second repetition, conveys the opposite of what the word "resignation" really means. Here, it's as if repeating the word might make accepting what happened easier, but at the same time pairing the word with "hopeless" expresses just how difficult and seemingly impossible the task truly is.