Many have desired a magic stick at least once in their lives, but few understand the luck of it remaining a fiction. The short story The Monkey’s Paw by William Wymark Jacobs tells the reader about an ordinary family granted the possibility to change their life but bitterly regretting it later. Such elements of the story as plot, theme, and word choice have a terrifying effect on readers, making them understand the danger of playing with fate.
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The story’s events take a short period of time, which can be divided into two parts. The narration of the first day, filled with calmness, contrasts with further events developing with swiftness. It seems that there are two realities in the story: the light one, which existed before the talisman, and the dark one, which reveals itself when the characters give in to the seduction of it. To show this transition, the writer inserts in the text some hints pointing at the evil nature of the talisman and at the tragic end of the story. During the family’s talk with Morris, the soldier throws the monkey’s paw upon the fire with words: “better let it burn”, trying to prevent the family from using it (Jacobs 5). Later, Herbert, who does not believe in the power of the talisman, sees in the fire a face “so horrible and so simian that he gazed at it in amazement” (Jacobs 7). These moments warn the reader about the disaster expecting the characters but do not explain which one. Thus, the story’s plot keeps everyone in constant tension about what will happen next.
Behind the story about supernatural phenomena, there is a theme of the relationship between a man and fate, which is worth pondering. The writer indicates it with the words of a fakir, who wanted to prove with the monkey’s paw “that fate ruled people’s lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow” (Jacobs 4). Apart from fatalism, the story proves there is no point to ask for such things as money or power. That is why Morris advises Mr. White to “wish for something sensible” (Jacobs 5). The whole story is enlightening because it reminds many people unsatisfied with their life that they probably already possess everything they need.
The words chosen by the author amplify the text’s effect on readers. Almost every verb transmitting the characters’ actions is followed by an adverb making it more precise. It can be assumed that the author pays significant attention to details. For instance, the sergeant-major starts speaking about the talisman “hastily” and “offhandedly” (Jacobs 3). These characteristics reveal his desire to avoid this topic because he is afraid of the consequences. The description of the monkey’s paw, which caused so much grief, is also impressive. In the dark, the talisman moves and twists in the hands of Mr. White like a snake. However, the next morning it becomes “the dirty, shrivelled little paw” thrown “with a carelessness which betokened no great belief in its virtues” (Jacobs 7). Thus, the author shows how an innocent trick turns into a disaster.
The short story The Monkey’s Paw by William Wymark Jacobs is an example of a literary work combining a thrilling plot, a theme relevant at all times, and carefully chosen vocabulary. The author immerses readers in the text, letting them guess what will happen next, showing the characters’ emotional state, and leaving everyone with thoughts about their own lives. Not only does the story aim at frightening readers, but it also demonstrates how people can easily be carried away with the desire to deceive their fate and get something with unfair methods.
Jacobs, William Wymark. The Monkey’s Paw. Tale Blazers, 1978.