Short Story Review: The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs

The Monkey’s Paw is a classic three wishes story that doubles as a horror and a cautionary tale. The story was first published in 1902, and then featured in The Lady of the Barge, published in 1911. It falls into Gothic literature, or supernatural horror.

The story is set in England at the home of the White family, during a dark and stormy night. Their guest, Sargeant-Major Morris who has returned home from his post in India, tells them about the power of a mummified monkey’s paw that he brought back with him that a Fakir put a spell on, granting its guardian three wishes. He warns the family to be aware of the consequences of their wishes, and the wishes are always accompanied by a punishment for tampering with fate.  Morris tries to destroy the paw by casting it in to the blazing fire, to destroy its evil forces once and for all, but Mr White retrieves it and with his family, use the paw.

The strength of the story is that of the theme that is paramount throughout this story, that fate should be left alone, and no good comes from meddling in things that ought not to be meddled with. The repetition of three, is very predominant throughout, three owners, three wishes, three knocks, three family members of the white family, it is like a magical number for the talisman.

I like how he uses literary allusion into his story, this is something I learnt from reading this short story. We think having three wishes granted would be magnificent, but happy wishes are not part of the monkey paw’s nature. For every wish asked, destruction and evil arise, rather than any good.

The epigraph of this story is perhaps the most powerful tool W.W. Jacobs used, ‘Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it’, it is haunting and a reminder that we may not like what we wish for, because what we wish for isn’t always better. It serves as a cautionary foreshadowing of the story’s theme.

Jacobs, W.W. (1902). The monkey’s paw. Retrieved from https://www.ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/Jacobs/ww/monkey/

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