What are the conflicts found in "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs?
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“The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs has an element of the supernatural wound throughout the plot. The point of view of the story is third person with the narrator imparting the thoughts of the major character. The main characters are Mr. White, the protagonist; Mrs. White, the mother; and their son, Herbert.
The story’s conflict circulates around an ugly, monkey’s paw [It seems to have a life of its own] that a visitor to the family brings to the house. Obviously, the sergeant-major manipulates Mr. White, so he would buy the talisman from him.
‘It had a spell put on it by an old fakir,’ said the sergeant-major, ‘a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it.’
This is the crux of the story. Mr. White faces the decision to buy the paw; then, he must decide what he wants. His first wish will lead to the destruction of his family.
This is why the sergeant-major must be rid of the paw. He knew the possibilities. In fact, he warns Mr. White, when he mentions that the first man who had the paw wished for death as his last wish. Using reverse psychology, the sergeant-major passes the paw to the next unwitting victim: Mr. White.
The conflict then comes from Mr. White debating within himself: Should he use the paw and if he does use it, for what should he wish?
The old fakir spell begins and another conflict ensues: Man versus the supernatural world. The fakir knew that man could not resist the ability to wish for the materialistic things of the world. So he played a trick on each of the owners. Each wish would add to the horror of the previous wish.
Mr. White’s first wish--A seemingly benign wish for $200 pounds
Mr. White’s second wish—After discovering the death of his son, he is given $200 pounds. The son had been extremely mangled in the accident that killed him. Herbert has been dead for ten days. Mr. White knows that this is a terrible decision. After his wife begs him to make the wish and against his better judgment, Mr. White wishes for his son to come back to life. The conflict is almost unbearable for the protagonist.
Mr. White’s third wish—He hears a knock at the door. Mrs. White wants her husband to open the door that is bolted. The knocking becomes more and more aggressive. Mr. White’s fear is palpable.
He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment he found the monkey's paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.
Facing the unknown and horrific possibilities of his son returning to his family, Mr. White wishes Herbert back to the grave.
Mr. White faces his conflict. Knowing the devastation for the mother who will see her son after ten days in the grave, he completes the cycle. He makes the wish, losing his son forever.
Acknowledging the old fakir’s truth. Mr. White reaches the climax of the story: man must not interfere with destiny. If he does, he will suffer the consequences.
W. W. Jacobs was a skilled professional. He knew how to keep reader interest by incorporating some element of conflict into every scene. For example, when Mr. White first gets possession of the monkey's paw, there is a conflict with his friend the sergeant-major who doesn't want to give it to him. Then when he uses it to make his first wish he experiences an inner conflict because he is afraid of the consequences, while at the same time there is an external conflict with both his wife and his son Herbert who keep urging him to make the wish. When the representative from Maw and Meggins arrives, that man is obviously experiencing an inner conflict about entering their house.
The fourth time he stood with his hand upon it, and then with sudden resolution flung it open and walked up the path.
Three times he turns back from the Whites' front gate. The poor man doesn't want to have to tell them that their son is dead. No doubt he also feels guilty about having to tell them that the company disclaims all responsibility for Herbert's fatal accident.
Then there is a huge conflict between Mr. and Mrs. White when she suddenly thinks of using the monkey's paw to wish for Herbert to be alive again. This conflict continues almost to the end. She wants to open the door and admit her son, while her husband wants to keep him out. That conflict is only resolved when he uses the monkey's paw to wish that the knocking would cease and the knocker would depart forever.
It should be noted that the author has established that only the owner of the paw can make a wish with it. He has also established that only three persons can own it and Mr. White is the last. This prevents Mrs. White from using the magical paw herself. Mr. White's ownership of the paw is explained in the following dialogue.
"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."
So neither Herbert nor Mrs. White can use the paw to make a wish. This fact in itself will cause minor and major conflicts. It should also focus the reader's attention and forestall such questions as, "Why doesn't Herbert make a wish?" and "Why doesn't Mrs. White use the paw herself instead of forcing her husband to make a wish against his will?"
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