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”The Monkey’s Paw” and ”The Red Room”

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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.

The contrast of light and darkness within the story is used alongside the characters to create suspense. At the beginning of the story, it was dark, which gave the reader an ominous impression. For example Mr White was going down the stairs to make a wish to bring Herbert back while it was so dark, he had to feel his way around. The darkness generates fear, as it is hard to be sure what is lurking around the corner, and what you might bump in to. Jacobs then contrasts this with the light of the next morning, which provides a break from the suspense. However it doesn’t last for long, as darkness returns and an unforeseen guest – their dead son. When the light contrasts with the darkness, the feeling of suspense is amplified at night. “Her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw”. This scene of horror contrasts with the peace of the morning to make it seem even more horrific.

Further to the use of darkness, Jacobs stimulates the readers’ sense of hearing. The sounds made in the story play a major part in building up suspense by appealing to the readers’ senses. When their son Herbert is knocking on the door, we never actually see him, all we hear is a knock “so quiet and stealthy as to be scarcely audible”. This eerie quietness interrupted by a faint knocking builds up suspense, as the reader doesn’t know what is there, if anything at all. Because the reader doesn’t see Herbert, they are left to imagine what he would look like for themselves – this element of uncertainty is what builds up the suspense.

All the suspense that Jacobs has created through the use of language, setting and the attitudes of his characters all build up towards the climax. Jacobs starts off by calling the old couple’s son Herbert “it”. This adds an element of fear into the text and also de-humanises him; the word conveys that their son is no longer Herbert, but some foul creature that is perhaps rotting and disfigured. Also, as we never get to see him, the reader is left guessing right to the very end. Jacobs appeals to the reader’s senses even further by the use of onomatopoeia. When Mr White was upstairs he “heard the chain rattle back . . . slowly and stiffly”.

The rattling of the chain in the quiet background seems very unnerving and heightens the suspense. Also the words slow down the pace of the story. Then during the climax, the wish is made and at the same time the door is opened, because both of these events take place simultaneously, the climax is made even more intense and contains even more suspense, because if the wish isn’t made in time, they are doomed. Finally, the climax is over and when the door is opened all that is left is a “street lamp flickering” and a then a “cold wind rushed up the staircase”, when the story is at its most climactic and peak of suspense, it is hot and dark, but once all the suspense has been released, it turns to light and coolness.

The Red Room is similar to The Monkey’s Paw to some extent, not only in terms of what goes on in the story, but also how they are written. The mysterious setting of The Red Room helps build up an atmosphere of suspense, which has similarities as well as differences to that created in The Monkey’s Paw. Unlike Jacobs, Wells uses the characters in The Red Room to create an unnerving setting for the story. The old custodians portray an image of disease and decay, “His eyes were covered by a shade and his lower lip half averted, hung pale and pink from his decaying yellow teeth”.

This image of grotesque deformed old people emphasises the overall feeling of strangeness and tension in the story. This is further amplified when “a monstrous shadow of him crouched upon the wall and mocked his action”. The shadow embeds fear into the reader, as they wonder if the shadow itself is alive, which creates tension as the reader wonders what will happen next. Also, none of the custodians have any names and we don’t know why they are there in the first place, this element of doubt also adds to the suspense. This technique that Wells uses to build up suspense is different to Jacobs, as Wells uses his characters, while Jacobs uses the effect created by the juxtaposition of two different settings to create an uncanny and intense atmosphere.

Furthermore, Wells uses typical Gothic imagery used in almost any ‘haunted house’. Firstly, the Gothic motif – the candle, is very important within the story as it is used to create an atmosphere of apprehension as well as safety and relief. While on his way to the red room, his “candle flared and made the shadows cower and quiver”. Here the candle creates a sinister atmosphere as it personifies the shadows making them seem alive, which stirs the reader. This is in contrast to Jacob’s technique, as he doesn’t use Gothic motifs to create horror, instead he uses light and darkness, which makes The Red Room a lot more typical of the Gothic genre than The Monkey’s Paw.

However there are some similarities, as both writers use the attitudes of their characters to help create suspense. In The Red Room the attitude of the narrator plays a crucial part in building up tension. At first the narrator is sceptical and doubtful about the red room and its alleged supernatural powers. He says “I can assure you .. . that it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me”. His arrogant behaviour creates uneasiness in the reader’s mind as it is typical for the pompous non-believer to be the first victim and be avenged by the supernatural. This draws a parallel to The Monkey’s Paw as Herbert made fun out of the paw, and he turned out to be the first victim of the paw. Another similarity is that the narrator believes that he can challenge the supernatural with his gun alone “with my hand in the pocket held my revolver”. After the custodians’ momentous warnings, of how the room has claimed victims in the past and how infamous it is, the readers know a revolver wouldn’t do much help. The attitudes that the narrator has, is similar to that of the Whites, as they too believe the paw to be a joke, and mock the old man for his seriousness. This is exactly what the narrator does to the custodians,

” ‘If,’ I said a little louder, ‘if you will show me to this haunted room of yours, I will relieve you from the task of entertaining me'”.

Due to the narrator’s attitudes towards the room, the audience are put in suspense as they are awaiting and expecting the worst, yet they still wonder why the narrator isn’t feeling as timorous as the custodians and the reader themselves.

Once the narrator has entered the red room, his attitudes align with those of the custodians, as he too becomes curios and afraid of the room, which is reflected upon the reader. To start off with he is afraid although he tries to deny his fear to himself, “Did I do that myself in a flash of absent-mindedness?”. He knows that something else put that light out, although he tries to blame it on himself. As the story progresses, his fear increases “speaking with a half-hysterical facetiousness, and scratching away at a match the while for the mantel candlesticks.” Here we can see the nature of the narrator’s nerves, as he is becoming increasingly frantic. He is running out of explanations for the strange occurrences, so he is beginning to believe the legends the room holds. Eventually, he gives in and can’t deny the power of the room, “I flung out my arms in a vain effort to thrust that ponderous blackness away from me”

The narrator knows that there is nothing more he can do as he says he attempted in “vain”. The narrator is like the Whites, as they both gradually begin to realise, as the story progresses, the power of what they are dealing with. What the narrator once believed to be a myth is now reality as he is now experiencing the effects of the red room and its “ponderous blackness”. The change of attitudes the narrator goes through is similar to the Whites’ – doubtful to inquisitive to belief and then fear. The state of hysteria which the red room inflicts on the narrator, causes the reader to fear the red room too, as they see how it can turn even the most over-confident man into a “screaming”, “frantic”, “crying” one.

While it took the narrator a night of head pounding torture, the custodians knew from the start the potential hazards the red room had in store. The old woman sitting by the fire mutters “Tonight of all nights” throughout the story, showing that she is fearful of the red room, and that tonight something terrible is going to happen. The old woman is very vague about what she is saying, so it leaves an element of doubt within the reader, as they don’t know for sure what is going to happen creating tension. The old woman and the sergeant are similar, as they both give indistinct and unclear answers creating a mysterious and shadowy atmosphere.

To amplify this mysterious and shadowy atmosphere Wells uses a variety of literary techniques and writing styles to create suspense in The Red Room. Firstly Wells personifies the shadows to create a sense of the unknown, “a shadow came sweeping up after me, and one fled before me into the darkness overhead”

Wells portrays the shadows as enemies as they came sweeping after him, making it seem as if the narrator is being hunted by shadows. This is one of the differences between the two stories as Wells employs personification to help create suspense, whereas Jacobs mainly relies on the dialogue of his characters. However it can also be seen as a similarity because in The Monkey’s Paw whenever it is dark there is danger, which is what Wells is trying to convey through the use of shadows.

Also the language Wells uses to describe the narrator’s physical movement helps create suspense. When the lights go out in the red room the narrator “stumbled”, “fell” and leaped around not only hurting himself but sending furniture flying around in all directions. These words evoke a violent mood within the story, as he seems so frantic creating a sense of suspense. Another literary technique Wells uses is onomatopoeia, as it creates a more emotive text. “The echoes rang up and down the spiral staircase”, here Wells describes the paranormal way in which sound travels through the castle causing nervousness within the reader. This is also what Jacobs does in The Monkey’s Paw, where, during the climax he describes the sounds made by the bolt making the reader wait and creating suspense.

Wells also uses onomatopoeia to help juxtapose warmth with coldness and danger. The “crackling of the fire” contrasts with the draughty and chilly subterranean passageway, which gives the castle an uncanny feel as it has both extremes of warmth and cold, safety and danger. This is another connection between the two stories; in The Monkey’s Paw, Jacobs describes the inviting and safe interior of the villa and contrasts it with the cold and dangerous outdoors. The way in which Wells appeals to the readers’ senses makes the story seem a lot more real and emotive, which helps the creation of suspense and mystery.

The peak of this suspense and mystery is near the end, where the story climaxes. The narrator is running around the room frantically trying to find the exit, and while doing this, the pace of the story is increased making it seem a lot more urgent, “I leaped panting and dishevelled from candle to candle in a vain struggle. . . I sent a chair headlong, I stumbled and fell”

Here the narrator is very frantic hurting himself while trying to flee. This is similar to the climax of The Monkey’s Paw, as Jacobs describes Mr White’s frantic behaviour while “groping” around for the paw. Also, Wells prolongs the climax by describing the fall of the narrator “a horrible sensation of falling that lasted an age”. This technique is also adopted by Jacobs while the bolt drew back slowly, making the reader wait in agonising anticipation. The techniques used by Wells at the end of The Red Room are very successful as they create a very emotive and visceral climax.

In conclusion, The Red Room seems to be more successful than The Monkey’s Paw at building up suspense. This is due to the literary excellence of Wells. He personifies man’s greatest fear – darkness creating a sense of dread and unease which Jacobs fails to do, he uses onomatopoeia more effectively than Jacobs to create an even more emotive text making things described in the story seem a lot more real and the climax that Wells creates in the story is a lot more frenetic and wild than the climax of The Monkey’s Paw.

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