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Literary Analysis of The Monkey’s Paw by William Jacobs

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In “The Monkey’s Paw,” author William Jacobs delivers a cautionary tale about unexpected consequences and how achieving what we wish for might prove catastrophic in ways we would not expect. This terrifying story follows the White family who receive a talisman, a monkey’s paw that grants three wishes, but each of these wishes is fulfilled in unexpected conditions. Jacobs uses foreshadowing, figurative language, and mood to examine critical issues, such as what can happen when we try to interfere with fate and the dangers of what happens when we follow our curiosity a little too far.

Jacobs uses foreshadowing to add more suspense to the story of what will happen next and to keep readers on edge. At the beginning of the story, we are introduced to Sergeant Major Morris, who shows the Whites the famous “monkey paw.” Morris tells the family that it is a talisman that can grant three wishes but at a price. He explains that the monkey paw, “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 tried to change it would be sorry”. This illustrates how the monkey’s paw was explicitly made to bring harm to whoever tried to change fate. Morris warns the family that the last man who had it, in the end, wished for death. He tells the family about the dangers and the consequences of the monkey paw and how it will bring harm to the family if they were to use it. Through using foreshadowing, readers are made aware that the story is going to be suspenseful and that the monkey paw is going to be the one responsible for what’s to come.

Another foreshadowed event was the death of Herbert White: Mr. and Mrs. Whites’ son. Mr. White decides to use the talisman even after all the warnings he was told. For the first wish, he decides to wish for two hundred pounds; little did he know that his son would have to die to receive it. After he makes his first, the atmosphere of the house grows tense and dark like something terrible is about to happen. The wind picks up outside, and “a silence unusual and depressing settled upon all three.” After Mr. and Mrs. White go to bed, Herbert sits alone in the dark watching the faces of the fire, and in the last one, he sees “A face that was so horrible and so simian that he gazed at it in amazement”. The face became so lifelike scaring him, so he reached for a cup of water to throw over it but ended up grabbing the monkey’s paw. This illustrates how Herbert may be the one paying the consequences of the first wish, preparing readers for the first horrible event, Herbert’s death. The next day Herbert dies at the manufacturing, and Mr. White receives two hundred pounds as compensation for his son’s death.

Jacobs uses literary elements to give the story a more robust and impactful meaning. After Mr. White makes his first wish, he says, “It moved, he cried, with a glance of disgust at the object as it lay on the floor. As I wished, it twisted in my hands like a snake”. The author compares the monkey paw to a snake to emphasize how dangerous it is and so readers know that whatever is about to come won’t be good. Snakes are evil, calculating, and traitorous animals; one never knows what to expect from them. At the same time, though, they represent power, and some even say they are “magical creatures.” They are animals that have been linked with good as well as evil, representing life and death, creation and destruction. By comparing the two, Jacobs shows how mighty the monkey paw is. Readers can see the double meaning, and what the talisman represents that though it may grant wishes, there will be a price.

The monkey’s paw is used as a symbol of greed and desire, also representing the limitless power of fate. The author shows how wishing more than what is needed can be dangerous. Many people only see the benefits of wishing; little do they know that its benefits always come with a hefty price. The misfortunes of the Whites, for example, is a result of wanting more than what they need. Mr. White already has everything he needs – a comfortable home and a happy family. However, he still decides to use the monkey’s paw to wish for money he does not need in the first place. Before Mr. White wishes for the money, he acknowledges, “It seems to me I’ve got all I want”. This shows how he didn’t need or want anything, but his desire got to him because he wanted to be done paying for the house. Mr. White is not precisely greedy in his desire for 200 pounds. It is more something he would like to have, and it is a desire that seems sensible. It is more a test to satisfy his curiosity than anything else. However, this curiosity leads to deadly consequences for Herbert and absolute sadness for Mr. and Mrs. White. It is teaching us the danger of taking curiosity too far. It also symbolizes the values of interfering with fate. Despite Morris’ objections and warnings, Mr. White is determined to try to change something about his life, rather than being satisfied with everything he already has. The twisted irony of the paw is that it does grant the desire. However, because magic interferes with the way things are supposed to be, wishes are awarded at a high price. The monkey’s paw was an opportunity for the Whites to take advantage of any possibility in the universe, and to satisfy their curiosity. However, it is also a way to interfere with fate, and because of this, they are severely punished. Destiny is something that cannot be changed, and when they try to replace it with the paw, fate finds a way to fix things.

From the beginning to the end, Jacobs sets a very mysterious and ominous mood. Not knowing what will happen next and surprising us with what does happen. He never gives us all the information about everything that happens. For example, we never find out if the paw does have magical powers, and if it was responsible for Herbert’s death. Also, when Mr. White wishes for his son to be alive, there’s a knock on the door, but we never know if it was undead Herbert White knocking on the door. Lastly, we never know what Mr. White’s third wish is, leaving readers in a world of mystery and of what happened was. Also, to add more effect to the mood, the author uses an endless cold wind throughout the story. The wind is an omen of bad luck, right at the beginning of the story we know that something terrible is going to happen. The author continually reminds readers of the cold wind setting up a somewhat scary mood, a mood that makes us think bad things will happen.

W.W. Jacobs wrote many short stories, but none like “The Monkey’s Paw.” It was a real horror story about the dangers of wishing, teaching many life lessons along the way. By implying what will happen next, to comparisons and symbols, to creating an unknown mood, Jacobs was able to create a captivating and fascinating story. Teaching readers the choices one makes today will have an effect and impact on the world tomorrow.             

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Literary Analysis Of The Monkey’s Paw By William Jacobs. (2022, January 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from
“Literary Analysis Of The Monkey’s Paw By William Jacobs.” GradesFixer, 12 Jan. 2022,
Literary Analysis Of The Monkey’s Paw By William Jacobs. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2022].
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