The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs is a horror short story. I read this story years ago when it was part of my English curriculum. I didn’t remember much about the story. So when I came across it, I decided to read it again.
The story is a take on the ‘Three wishes’ scenario. Mr. White, Mrs. White, and their son Herbert are inside their house while there is a storm outside. They are expecting a guest, Sergeant-Major Morris. He arrives and tells them all about his travels abroad in India. Then he tells them about the monkey’s paw. The Monkey’s Paw has a spell on it, that grants the owner three wishes but with consequences. Morris throws the paw in the fire, but Mr. White saves it. Later, Herbert and Mr. White are just talking about the paw and the wishes when Herbert jokingly suggests makes his first wish should be for 200 pounds to pay off the mortgage on their home.
The money doesn’t appear immediately. Later, a stranger comes to the Whites’ home. He tells them that Herbert has died in an accident at the factory and the monetary compensation they are offering is 200 pounds. Grief-stricken and desperate, Mrs. White decides to use one of the remaining two wishes to bring Herbert back, Mr. White is reluctant saying that Herbert has been buried for ten days already. Mrs. White begs her husband to make the wish, and he complies. At night, there is a knocking on their door, and Mrs. White is sure that it is Herbert. Mr. White searches for the paw knowing that, he cannot let whatever is outside into the house. Then he makes his final wish.
The main themes of the story are fate and being careful what you wish for. Mr. White doesn’t heed Morris’ warning about the paw and makes a wish not thinking about the consequences. The way his character is set up from the beginning shows that he doesn’t accept reality quickly even if it is about small things like a chess game. The fakir (a holy man), who put the spell on the paw, warns about the dangers of humans trying to alter their destiny, it always comes with a cost. In the end, the Whites’ learn this lesson the hard way.
The story begins in the house of the White family, they seem to be happy and content. It might not be extraordinary or too comfortable, but they seem like a normal family. Although, when there is an opportunity to possibly change their life, they are swayed by it. Mr. White doesn’t give much thought to the 200 pounds wish suggestion Herbert gives and nonchalantly wishes for it. The cost of getting that money is the loss of their son. The other two wishes are a consequence of the first wish, and in the end, their life is altered forever in a manner they never anticipated and will forget.
W. W. Jacobs’s writing keeps you on the edge from the start. It creates this paranoid atmosphere, especially after the first wish; you cannot predict what is going to happen next. The story has horror elements in a classic and emotionally disturbing way. The end of the story is ambiguous as we never get definitive answers to who was knocking at the door that night. I am not a huge fan of such an ending because I like to know exactly what happened. But, in the story and its tone, the ending works really well.
I recalled the story as I read it this time, although I caught on to a lot of nuances I had missed when I first read it. The Monkey’s Paw is a horror story that stays with you after you have read it. It asks and makes you ponder on many aspects of life. It is a must-read.
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