The Monkey’s Paw | Summary, Analysis, Theme, Symbolism

The Monkey's Paw | Summary, Analysis, Theme, Symbolism

The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs

W. W. Jacobs’s famous collection of short stories was The Lady of the Barge, published in 1902, it included ‘The Monkey’s Paw‘. Sea Urchins and Sailor’s Knots were other short story collections published in 1893 and in 1909 respectively. He chose marine life in many of his stories. But he is exclusively popular till now for his macabre tales, ‘The Monkey’s Paw‘ and ‘The Toll House‘. Some of his stories were published in the satirical magazines the Idler and Today during the 1980’s. Jacobs’s fictional works were much appreciated by some famous literary figures like Henry James, G. K. Chesterton, and Christopher Morley.

Jacobs not only wrote short stories, he wrote some novels also. His famous novels are The Skipper’s Wooing, A Master of Craft, Dialstone Lane, At Sunwich Port.

Some of his stories, such as ‘The Monkey’s Paw‘, were converted to plays. Jerome K. Jerome, an eminent comic novelist of that time, was a great fan of Jacobs. Jacobs died in Islington, London on September 1, 1943.

The Monkey’s Paw Setting

The story, set at Laburnam villa, the house of the White family in England, is told in omniscient third person point of view.

Laburnam villa : The house where the White family lived.

Maw and Meggins : Name of the company where Herbert white worked.

The Monkey’s Paw Characters

Mr. White  

An old man who was Herbert White’s father and Mrs. White’s husband. He was fascinated by the monkey’s paw. He had to lose his son due to his wish on the paw.

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Mrs. White

A white haired old lady who was Herbert’s mother and Mr. White’s wife. It was she who forced Mr. White to wish for bringing Herbert back to life.

Herbert White

Mr. and Mrs. White’s only surviving child. He worked at a company named ‘Maw and Meggins’.

Sergeant-Major Morris

He was a friend of Mr. White. He is described in the story as a ‘tall, burly man, beady of eye and rubicund of visage.’ He was an adventure lover who preferred talking about his experience that he faced abroad. The Whites got the monkey’s paw from this very person.

Post man

A post man who came to make a delivery and the person attracted Mrs. White’s attention.

The visitor

A representative who came from ‘Maw and Meggins’ to inform the White parents of Herbert’s death news. He came to give Mr. and Mrs. White two hundred pounds paid as compensation for Herbert’s death.

The Monkey’s Paw Summary

The Monkey’s Paw is a horror short story of W.W. Jacobs, published in England in 1902. The story is basically set upon three wishes’ that are granted in it. The paw of a dead monkey is a symbolic talisman that its possessor ‘three wishes’ but they come with an enormous price or interfering with fate.

The story centres round. Mr. and Mrs. White and their adult sontterbert. A friend of the family, Sergeant-Major Morris, originally a part of the British Armed Forces in India, leaves them with the ‘monkey’s paw’, conveying its mysterious and miraculous powers to grant ‘three wishes’. He also tells them its journey from an old ‘fakir to his comrade, who used his third and final wish for death. Mr. White wishes for L 200 to be employed for the final payment on his house. After that, Herbert is killed by machinery at his company, but they get the amount of L 20 as compensation.

After the passage of ten days of funeral, Mrs. White perhaps mad with grief, requests her husband to rejuvenate the life of Herbert with the power of the paw. It is done unwillingly. After some delay, a knock is heard at the door. She fumbles at an attempt to open the door, thinking or imagining the horrible appearance of the dead Herbert. More than a week before, Herbert was discovered with his body mutilated in an accident by him father and his body being buried. With the third wish the knocking stops and the door being opened, nothing was visible.

The Monkey’s Paw Theme

The theme centers round the miracle of the ‘monkey paw’. “It had a spell put on it by an old fakir, a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow.”

There are two central themes in the story are fate and the nature of wishes. First, the author shows that not accepting one’s destiny and trying to alter it may result in adverse events.

Second, the author warns the reader about being careful about what they wish. People tend to desire for things they do not need and getting these things may lead to unhappiness. It is symbolic that the monkey’s paw comes from India where people believe in laws of karma that promote the idea of fate and austerity.

The Monkey’s Paw Analysis

The story first appeared in Harper’s Monthly magazine in 1902 and was reprinted in his third collection of short stories, ‘The Lady of the Barge’, also published in 1902. It has been adapted both for the stage and films. There is a subtle constructive similarity between O. Henry and Jacobs- surprising ending. The element of macabre has been introduced in the present story. The author has employed foreshadowing imagery, allusion and symbolism to excavate the fatalistic consequences, tempting to all his readers economy of diction is greatly used for the superstructure of setting, atmosphere, suspense, sometimes awe and “paw” sometimes.

The awe and mystery of the paw

The story opens with Mr. White and his son, Herbert, playing a game of chess. Mrs. White is knitting by the fire. Mr. White losses the game and gets agitated and exasperated. With a sudden knock, the Sergeant-Major enters. They share a few drinks and the man tells them the tales of his trips to India. He narrates the attainment of the *monkey’s paw’ wrapped in enigmatic, mysterious power’. The Paw being magical, allows three men three wishes. He tosses the pass into the fire, but snatching it out, Mr. White keeps it for himself. The visitor refers to the source of the fakir.

The Sergeant Major Morris, an old family friend of the Whites, goes on to say that the fakir (a holy man) wanted to show that “fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a speak on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.” Foreshadowing is a narrative technique by which Jacobs hints at the events to come.

Context of greater history

“The sun never sets on the British empire” – was a common saying, during its composition. By the early 1900’s, England Lord conquered and colonized countries all over the world. This indicates the widespread colonizing mentality of the British. Morris returns from a British colony-India. They were interested in learning the mysteries, miracles, ancient cultures and traditions of the colonized areas. Chesterton found that Jacobs’ “horror is wild, but it is a same horror.” There is striking contrast with Poe’s tales of horror and mystery.

Irony in The Monkey’s Paw

Irony consists in the contraction between appearance and beauty. Irony is Jacobs’ penchant, along with a refined glow of foreshadowing and mystery, unlike Poe. When the visitor came to pay the compensation for Herbert’s death, he told about Herbert ‘but he is not in any pain’. The entire tale is punctuated and permeated by ironical subtle touches. Besides, the greater question of the importation of the Oriental theme of “fakir’, the miracle of ‘Paw’, ‘the three wishes’ connects the issues of assimilation of the thought processes of the East and the West. The Colonized has something sublime to offer to the colonizer. Jacobs’ story is simply deceptive on multiple thematic layers and ironies.

Symbolism in The Monkey’s Paw

The predominant symbol used in this short story is monkey’s paw which symbolizes human greed. Mr. White and Sergeant Major Morris playing the game of chess is a symbol of karma.

The Monkey’s Paw Movie

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