The Monkey’s Paw is a short mystical literary piece written by William Wymark Jacobs. In the story, the White family took possession of a mummified monkey paw that, in the words of their old friend, Morris, had magical properties and could make three wishes of three men true. Consistently with Morris’s prediction that this magic item worked in “mischievous” ways after Mr. White made the first wish for getting two hundred pounds, an unfortunate event took place. He received the desired sum at a tremendous cost – his son’s death.
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Overall, it was mentioned in the story that the meaning of the monkey’s paw was “to show that fate ruled people’s lives” and that it is futile to change destiny (Jacobs, 2005, p. 19). The fact that Herbert was the only breadwinner in the family verifies this idea since, by obtaining a significant amount of money, Mr. and Mrs. White lost the main source of financial support. Thus, the financial balance in their life, their fate, remained unchanged.
However, it is valid to say that the literary meaning of The Monkey’s Paw is as follows: be careful what you wish for. The final scene in which Mr. White asks the paw to bring his dead son back to life under the urge of his wife provides support for this statement.
The protagonist of the story was frightened of that second wish. Before making it, he experiences “a horrible fear” that it “might bring his mutilated son before him” (Jacobs, 2005, p. 28). It would be wrong to say that he loved Herbert less than his wife and did not want to see him again. In contrast, he seemed to realize that a person who is brought to life after being buried for over a week may not be the same person he knew before the fatal incident. Therefore, Mr. White is torn between his love for his family and his fear of seeing something unnatural and encountering death itself.
This episode points at the weakness of the human character and shows that indecisiveness and fear of the unknown are in human nature. This statement is in line with one of the main points made by Jacob in The Monkey’s Paw as he wrote that the protagonist felt tremendous relief after making the last wish that canceled the second one. He was shaking and trembling with fright hearing the mysterious knocks at the door, yet “a long loud wail of disappointment and misery from his wife gave him courage to run down to her side, and then to the gate beyond” (Jacob, 2005, p. 30). It is possible to say that there was at least a slight chance and hope to get Herbert back but the old man’s fear interfered with the capturing of this opportunity.
Another message about human nature, which coincides with Jacob’s main points made in the story, is that people are greedy. Money is one of the main desires of individuals across times and continents. Regardless of how much a person may have, they will always want more. When Herbert proposed Mr. White to wish for two hundred pounds, the latter followed the recommendation without hesitation. Even though he did that disbelieving in the magical effects of the monkey’s paw, the wish itself indicates that desire for wealth and a better life is core to almost every individual.
Even though the story is written in the genre of horror and surrealism and incorporates many mystical themes, it is very believable and even realistic. Readers can doubt whether the paw indeed moved after the wishes were made or if it was just the man’s imagination. It is also possible to regard Herbert’s death and the company’s compensation for the incident as a coincidence because there is no evidence that the dead son returned home from his grave.
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Nobody saw him at the door of the house and the only thing that hinted that the second wish could be realized is a repeated “quiet and stealthy,” “scarcely audible” knock (Jacob, 2005, p. 29). Therefore, although the mystical theme captures readers’ imagination fully, one can suppose that such a story could occur in real life also. When rejecting the idea that the described mystical occasions took place objectively, it seems that the whole story unfolded in the subjective space of the characters’ minds.
Overall, The Monkey’s Paw is a piece of writing just as thrilling as a horror story can be. It gave me an eerie feeling and made me wait for unexpected turns as I continued to read. The story can provoke such an emotional and psychological effect due to rich imagery (“pulsating shadows,” faces in a dying fire, and so forth) that created a mystical mood (Jacob, 2005, p. 28).
However, the psychologism of the literary piece and the fact that the storyline was entirely built on the inner experiences of the characters was that what amazed me even more. The wittiness of Jacob’s writing and his ideas in terms of narrative construction made me truly appreciate The Monkey’s Paw.
Jacobs, W. W. (2005). The Monkey’s Paw and other tales of mystery and the macabre. Chicgo, IL: Academy Chicago Publishers.