‘The Monkey’s Paw’ by W.W. Jacobs

Jacobs, W.W. 1902

The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, 1902

The magic trick:

Establishing a warmth between the family in the story’s first section

Its status as a creepy horror classic seems assured on the premise alone. The whole three wishes thing. A twisted monkey’s paw. The standard trope of British Empire literature in which all darkness and terror hails from the mysterious abroad. Yeah, all the pieces are in place.

But “The Monkey’s Paw” is a bit more than simple scary story. It tugs at the heartstrings. How? Why? It’s not a long story at all. There really isn’t much time to create rich characters. What Jacbos does accomplish is he very effectively gives the family in question a rosy glow during the story’s first section. We may not really get to know the individual family members well, but we do understand that there is a real love felt between them. When the father says, “It seems to me I’ve got all I want,” yeah it’s a little corny but your heart melts. This of course makes the second half of the story not just terrifying but emotional for the reader as well. And that’s quite a trick on Jacobs’s part.

The selection:

“If the tale about the monkey paw is not more truthful than those he has been telling us,” said Herbert, as the door closed behind their guest, just in time for him to catch the last train, “we shan’t make much out of it.”

“Did you give him anything for it, father?” inquired Mrs. White, regarding her husband closely.

“A trifle,” said he, colouring slightly. “He didn’t want it, but I made him take it. And he pressed me again to throw it away.”

“Likely,” said Herbert, with pretended horror. “Why, we’re going to be rich, and famous, and happy. Wish to be an emperor, father, to begin with; then you can’t be henpecked.”

He darted round the table, pursued by the maligned Mrs. White armed with an antimacassar.

Mr. White took the paw from his pocket and eyed it dubiously. “I don’t know what to wish for, and that’s a fact,” he said slowly. “It seems to me I’ve got all I want.”

“If you only cleared the house, you’d be quite happy, wouldn’t you?” said Herbert, with his hand on his shoulder. “Well, wish for two hundred pounds, then; that’ll just do it.”

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