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William Wymark Jacobs, a British humorist best known for The Monkey’s Paw, was born on September 8, 1863 in London, England. His father, “William Gage Jacobs” (www.nndb.com), managed a South Devon wharf, and Jacobs and his brothers spent much time there.
After attending Birkbeck College, Jacobs became a clerk in civil service in 1879, “a job that he hated” (www.enotes.com). From 1883 to 1899 he worked in the savings bank department. “A regular income was a welcomed change from his childhood of financial hardship.” (www.online-literature.com) He started submitting sketches to Blackfriars in 1885.
Many Cargoes was the W.W. Jacobs first collection of short stories in 1896. In 1897, The Skipper’s Wooing was written and in 1898 Jacobs wrote another collection of stories, Sea Urchins. “By 1899 Jacobs was confident enough to resign from the civil service to devote his full time to writing.” (www.online-literatre.com) After quitting work he said:
“It was not until I had been writing for some years for amusement and a little extra pocket-money that I bagan to write of the watersideâ€¦ Then the coastwise trips that I had taken in my youth came back to me with all the illusion of the past. Barges, schooners, little steamships and the dingy old wharf at Wapping on which I had lived for four years, took on a new appearance. They came as old friends and helped to push a lazy pen” (x The Monkey’s Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and of the Macabre)
In 1900, Jacobs married Agnes Elanor. They had two sons and three daughters.
Jacobs wrote a novel in 1902, At Sunwich Port, and another in 1904, Dialstone Lane. “They are said to among his best, displaying exceptional talent to ingeniously devise characters and satirical situations.” (www.online-literature.com) In 1902 he wrote a collection of stories that were put together to form The Lady of the Barge. In 1914, W.W. Jacobs wrote his last collection of short stories called Night Watches. In 1931 he published Snug Harbor, a collection of theatrical plays. Even with all his humor writings, W.W Jacobs is still best known for his horror story, The Monkey’s Paw. When it came to humor, Jacobs was the best in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Other books by him include “A Circular Tour, A Distant Relative, A Tiger’s Skin, Her Uncle, A Love-Knot, Watch-Dogs, and Breaking a Spell.” (www.americanliterature.com)
W.W. Jacbos died in Islington, London on September 1, 1943, “in a London nursing home.” (xii The Monkey’s Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and the Macabre)
2. Overview and Summary of The Monkey’s Paw
The Monkey’s Paw was written by W.W. Jacobs in 1902 and was published in his collection of short stories called The Lady of the Barge. The Monkey’s Paw is a short horror story, which is unlike his other humor stories written previously.
The Monkey’s Paw is about a small family of three, the White family that receives a monkey’s paw from a family friend, Sergeant-Major Morris, a war-torn man who had just gotten back from India. The Sergeant-Major Morris tells the Whites that it has the ability to grant three men three wishes each. The friend throws the paw into the fire but the Mr. White takes it out and asks if he can have it. After trying to persuade him not to keep it, the Sergeant eventually agrees and says Mr. White can keep it. After a few minutes of thinking of what to wish for, the Mr. White wishes for two hundred pounds. Nothing happens right away except the monkey’s paw shakes a bit. After this they don’t believe that the Sergeant was telling the truth.
The next day some stranger arrives with bad news. He is from Maw and Meggins, the place that the son, Herbert, works at. They tell the Whites that Herbert has died while working at the factory. The guy says he’s very sorry and that to compensate for the death they get a small sum of money equal to two hundred pounds, the amount they had wished for earlier. The family is in shock for a weak and don’t know what to do.
After a week of crying, mourning, and not getting out of bed, Mrs. White tells the father to wish the son back to life. The father does so and a few minutes later there is a knock at the door. The father realizes instantly the state that Herbert would be in since he was caught in the machinery and buried underground for a week. Mrs. White did not think about this when she rushed to the door and she yelled at Mr. White when she tried to get to the door. Mrs. White escapes from her husbands grasp and she rushes for the door. She gets to the door as the son reaches the gate. The gate squeaks open and Mrs. White tries to open the door, but she cannot as the door is locked. She fumbles with the lock and gets it open, but the door is jammed.
Meanwhile Mr. White is wishing with the monkeys paw that instead of alive, his son would be at peace. It is at this point where Mrs. White opens the door and finds it empty at the opposite end. The streetlight across the street flickers as a cold rush of wind blows through the house. “Such a mysterious ending leaves the reader hanging.” (www.helium.com)
This short story has been rewritten as a play and other short stories. While The Monkey’s Paw was completely different from his great humor stories, it is still the most known of W.W. Jacobs’ stories and continues to be performed in small theaters throughout the country.
The Monkey’s Paw is different than most of W.W. Jacobs other short stories and plays because it is a horror story rather than his humorous stories about a wharf and sailors. It is difficult to figure out what influenced him because it is so different from other stories of his and nothing seemed to trigger the change in story genres. Maybe he was just bored with humor, or maybe he somehow thought it was still humor, but no one seems to know why he changed.
In other stories his influences were mostly his father and the Wharf. Since he was always around the wharf, he eventually wrote fiction humor stories about sailors and the ocean. Growing up in a poor also influenced how he wrote, letting him give more life to the characters in his stories.
“This [The Monkey’s Paw] tale, it has been said, ‘of superstition and terror unfolding within a realistic setting of domestic warmth and coziness, is an example of Jacobs’ ability to combine everyday life and gentle humor with exotic adventure and dread.'” (xi The Monkey’s Paw and Other Tales of Mystery and the Macabre)
The Monkey’s Paw may be different from his other short stories, but it seems after W.W. Jacobs wrote it, he started writing more like it. His inspiration for writing it is still unknown to many people, but it is still a highly recognized short story.
3.2. Main Themes
One of the themes in The Monkey’s Paw is being careful of what you wish for. This is evident when the first wish was made, while it was made with some thought, the Whites did not think about the possible consequences. The consequence of wishing for a couple hundred pounds was beyond what they could imagine. They did not think that their son could die because of such a small amount of money. When they were making their second wish they did not think about it at all and they made the wish in too quickly and with a lot of emotion. By bringing their son back to life they brought a zombie-like person who was deformed beyond repair. “â€¦Making one seemingly harmless wish only intensifies and magnifies desire as each subsequent wish becomes more and more outlandish” (www.sparknotes.com). The message that this theme says is that you must think about what you wish for and the consequences before you make a wish.
Another theme in The Monkey’s Paw is don’t be curious. Since Mr. White was curious about the monkeys paw, the Sergeant gave him the paw. If he hadn’t been curious about the paw, nothing would have happened. The message that is displayed with this theme is that being curious can get you into trouble and harm you.
The last theme in The Monkey’s Paw is that greed and selfishness can destroy your life. Since the Whites were greedy, they wished for the money and only thought of themselves when they made their first two wishes. These two wishes did not turn out well because of their intentions. The third wish was made selflessly and had a better outcome than that of the other two.
3.3. Stylistic Devices
“Jacobs uses foreshadowing â€¦in this story [The Monkey’s Paw] to explore the consequences of tempting fate” (www.enotes.com). “W.W. Jacobs successfully adds depth and even excitement to his story by injecting suspense and mystery at almost every turn.” (www.helium.com)
An example of the use of foreshadowing in this story is when the Sergeant warns the Whites about the monkey’s paw and warns them not to use it. This example foreshadows a future event where, if it is used, the monkey’s paw will cause a problem. Another example is when the weather suddenly changes when the body of the son comes back to life and is coming home. This example warns that something is wrong. The solemn expression on the stranger’s face when he tells Mr. and Mrs. White about the death of their son foreshadows that he brings bad news.
One of the most suspenseful moments in the story is when the corpse of Herbert is knocking at the door and Mrs. White cannot open it. By letting the readers think that he is a corpse, it makes them want to know if she can get it open or not before Mr. White can wish Herbert to be at peace.
A time of mystery is when the Sergeant brings the monkeys paw and doesn’t describe the evil it brings in detail. By doing this the Sergeant leaves the readers wondering what will happen if the Whites use the monkey’s paw.
Throughout the story these stylistic devices are evident and make the story more interesting.
In this short story you don’t get to know the characters well because of the short period of time it takes place in and “the dryness of the characters and the lack of characterization.” (www.helium.com)
The main Characters of the story are the Whites. The Whites seem to be an everyday family that seems to get along well. They spend a lot of time together and
It seems like the only one who has a job is Herbert White, who works at Maw and Meggins. What he does there is unknown, other than the fact that there is machinery. “He is the only member of the family who works, so readers can assume that he supports his parents in their old age.” (www.SparkNotes.com) He does not believe the power of the monkeys paw at all, and treats it like a joke.
Mrs. White seems to be a caring mother who loves her son, and can’t stand to be without him. She is far less credulous than her husband. (www.SparkNotes.com) Mr. White sees the wrong in his greediness at the beginning of the story and later tries to make up for it by “wish[ing] the unwanted visitor away with his third wish may reflect his desire to not only save his and Mrs. White’s lives, but also redeem himself for his sins.” (www.SparkNotes.com)
Sergeant-Major Morris has spent twenty years in India before he visited the Whites. He is an old family friend of the Whites. He uses trickery to get the Whites to take the monkey’s paw. From that I consider him to be intelligent, but not worrying about the Whites much anymore.
1. What does the W.W. in W.W. Jacobs’ name stand for?
a. Warf Wallower b. Williams Washington c. William Wymark d. Willie Walt
2. When was W.W. Jacobs’ birthday?
a. September 8 b. July 4 c. September 14 d. October 5
3. What short story is W.W. Jacobs best known for?
a. The Well b. Many Cargoes c. The Monkey’s Paw d. The Sailors Wooing
4. In what city did W.W. Jacobs live and die in?
a. Boston b. Paris c London d Moscow
5. What was W.W. Jacobs best known for in his time?
a. Horror b. Romance c Comedy d Science Fiction
6. Who is/are the main characters of The Monkey’s Paw?
a. The Whites b. The Stranger c. The Monkey’s paw d. Sergeant
7. Who died in The Monkey’s Paw?
a. Mr. White b. The Stranger c. Herbert d. Sergeant
8. What was W.W. Jacobs’ first job?
a. Writer b. Civil Service Clerk c. Banks Savings d Servent
9. What was W.W. Jacobs’ second job?
a. Writer b. Civil Service Clerk c. Banks Savings d Servent
10. What did W.W. Jacobs grow up by?
a. Wharf b. Factory c. Warehouse d. Leaning Tower of Piza
11. What character seems to be the only one who works?
a. Herbert b. Mr. White c. Mrs. White
12. When did Jacobs die?
a. July 12, 1901 b. September 1, 1943 c August 18, 1970
13. What year was The Monkey’s Paw written in
a. 1999 b. 1920 c. 1900 d. 1902
14. What was collection of stories was The Monkey’s Paw first published in?
a. The Lady of the Barge b. Tales of Macabre c. The Collections of W.W. Jacobs
15. What was Jacobs main influence for most of his stories?
a. The Warf b. His education c. His dad d. Money
16. Who took the monkey’s paw as a joke in the story?
a. Sergeant b. Mr. White c. Herbert d. Mrs. White
17. Where had Sergeant-Major Morris just get back from
a. Africa b. Russia c. Afghanistan d. India
18. When did the Whites receive their 200 pounds?
a. right after they wished for it b never c the next day
19. In what year did Jacobs first collection of stories released?
a. 1902 b. 1889 c. 1896 d. 1943
20. How do the Whites know the Sergeant?
a. Relative b. Old friend c. War d. They didn’t
21 In 1900, Jacobs married ___________________
22&23 Jacobs had __ sons and ____ daughters
24 ___________________________ has spent twenty years in India
25 Herbert works at ___________________________________-
26 After wishing Herbert was alive, Mr. White wishes Herbert was _________________
27 _____________ says they should wish for Herbert to be alive again.
28&30 At the end of The Monkey’s Paw ______________ rushes through the house and ____________________________ flickers.
30 _______________ supports his/her parents in their old age
31 The Monkey’s Paw is a ________________ short story
32 Name one of the themes and describe what it means.
5. Test Answer Key
21 Agnes Elanor
24 Sergeant-Major Morris
25 Maw and Meggins
26 At Peace
27 Mrs. White
28 a cold wind
29 the streetlight across the street
31 Macabre or Horror
32. Be Careful What You Wish For, Curiosity Kills, or Greed and Selfishness Can Destroy
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