The Monkey’s Paw


W. W. Jacobs

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The Monkey’s Paw Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on W. W. Jacobs's The Monkey’s Paw. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of W. W. Jacobs

W. W. Jacobs grew up in a working-class family in London, where his father worked as a manager of the South Devon Wharf. His father’s profession would greatly impact Jacobs’ later work, as he earned fame for his sea stories and humor writing. As a young man, Jacobs worked as a clerk for the Savings Bank Department of the General Post Office. During this time, he began writing as a hobby and a way to earn extra money. After being published in several magazines, Jacobs recognized his passion for writing and felt successful enough to quit his job in civil service. Politically conservative, he had a rocky marriage to Agnes Eleanor Williams, with whom he had five children. Throughout his writing career, Jacobs published several short story collections, including Snug Harbor, a massive collection of his work, in 1931, but today he is most well-known for his horror story, The Monkey’s Paw.
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Historical Context of The Monkey’s Paw

By the mid-1800s, Britain had taken control, directly or indirectly, of most of India. While the colonization of India brought Britain access to unprecedented amounts of natural resources, land, and labor, many Britons at the time feared that the otherness and foreignness of the colony would negatively impact British culture. This is reflected in the supposed evil of the monkey’s paw, which Morris brings from India. Jacobs grew up in Victorian England, an era characterized by the rule of Queen Victoria and an emphasis on morals and manners. Part of these morals celebrated the sacredness of family and the home, shown by the happy home life of the Whites at the beginning of the story. The Victorian era also saw rapid industrialization in England, shown by Herbert working and then dying in a factory.

Other Books Related to The Monkey’s Paw

Just as the monkey’s paw comes from India to bring tragedy into the Whites’ lives, The Adventure of the Speckled Band by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle also conflates objects from India with evil. Both stories reflect a common fear among Britons during the late 1800s and early 1900s of the otherness and foreignness of the countries Britain colonized. The Monkey’s Paw also deals with the macabre, a term for works dealing with gruesome and ghastly subjects associated with death. This relates to other gothic stories such as The Rats in the Walls by H.P. Lovecraft, which like The Monkey’s Paw also deals with subjects of grief and supernatural horror. The story also borrows directly from The Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folktales also known as the Arabian Nights, which Mrs. White references in the narrative. In the most popular of the tales, a boy named Aladdin receives a magic lamp that grants him wishes, just as the monkey’s paw grants wishes.
Key Facts about The Monkey’s Paw
  • Full Title: The Monkey’s Paw
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1902
  • Literary Period: Realism, Existentialism
  • Genre: Horror, Short Story
  • Setting: Laburnam Villa, the White’s home in England
  • Climax: A knocking at the door could be the mangled corpse of Herbert, while Mr. White desperately uses the third wish to make Herbert disappear.
  • Antagonist: The monkey’s paw, the unchangeability of fate
  • Point of View: Third person

Extra Credit for The Monkey’s Paw

Adaptations, Adaptations, Adaptations. The Monkey’s Paw has been adapted hundreds of times for stage, radio, and film, including a play produced in 1903, a year after the story was originally published, and a 2013 movie by the same name. Popular TV shows such as The Simpsons, The X-Files, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have aired episodes based on the story.

Isn’t It Ironic? Jacobs experienced popular success and acclaim in his lifetime for his humor writing, but today his funny stories and essays are all but forgotten. Ironically, modern readers remember Jacobs only for The Monkey’s Paw, a gruesome horror story.