What are the literary elements in "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs? 

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In W. W. Jacobs’ story “The Monkey’s Paw,” wishes do come true. If a person is lucky enough to be given the ancient monkey’s paw, he will be given three wishes; however, beware of what one wishes for.  This is the premise of this story.

The Elements of the story


The point of view of the story is third person omniscient.  The narrator knows everything, but gives the reader little information.  He is able to look into the minds of the characters and know what they are thinking. 


The Whites have a guest.  Sergeant-Major Morris who shows them a monkey's paw from India with the power to grant three wishes. Morris warns the Whites that the paw was specifically designed to hurt the people who wish on it.  Mr. White wishes for two hundred pounds to pay off the family home. The next day the White’s son Herbert is killed, and the family receives $200 in compensation. Mrs. White has the father wish for Herbert to come back to life.  Suddenly, the mangled, undead Herbert is actually at the door.  Realizing that his wife does not need to see their undead son, Mr. White makes his third wish to send his son back.  The door is opened, and no one is there.


Mentioning within the story several issues, Jacobs speaks about working conditions in the factories, isolation, grief, and superstition. The atmosphere is serious and dark.


The theme of death is at the heart of the story.  When the son is lost, the family falls into a disastrous state.  Grief consumes them, and the mother wants her sob back. Finally, logic overrides love and the third wish returns the son to his grave.  


Jacobs uses this tool to give the reader’s clues about what to expect in the story.  Herbert’s death is foreshadowed several times by Herbert himself. 

 Another example of foreshadowing illustrates the evil found within the paw:

I wish for two hundred pounds," said the old man distinctly.

There is a fine crash interrupted by a shuddering cry from the old man. His wife and son ran toward him.

"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 hand like a snake."

This should have been an indication to the family that there was something very wrong with the paw.


Mr. White serves as the protagonist.  It would have been wonderful for the family to have surreptitiously received the money to pay for the house.  Unfortunately, superstition and magic intervene and cause the greatest heartache that a man can be given

The Sergeant-Major Morris is the antagonist along with the paw.  What a terrible friend! He knew the consequences and possibilities of the paw and yet he gave it to him anyway.  His actions cause the downfall of the family. 


Man versus the supernatural

Man versus himself

Man versus man

All of these conflicts are faced by the main character in the story.  The supernatural wins initially, yet in the end, Mr. White’s last wish sends his son back to the grave.

Mr. White struggles within himself with what he should do.  He knows that his son will never be the loving boy that his wife wants again.

The story is a great example of a more modern Poe story.  As the story progresses, so death and darkness pervade the White house.


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