"The Monkey's Paw" is W.W. Jacobs' most famous story and is considered to be a classic of horror fiction. It first appeared in Harper's Monthly magazine in 1902, and was reprinted in his third collection of short stories, The Lady of the Barge, also published in 1902. The story has since been published in many anthologies, adapted for the stage, and made into films. "The Monkey's Paw" was well received when Jacobs first published it; the story garnered rave reviews from some of the most important critics writing at the turn of the century. The story was also very popular with readers.
Like O. Henry, Jacobs was famous during his lifetime for writing a particular type of story rather than for any particular work. Similar to O. Henry's stories, Jacobs' tales are tightly constructed, humorous stories that usually revolve around simple surprise-ending plots Many of his stories are set on the waterfronts and docks of London, which Jacobs knew from his own childhood.
In addition to humor, Jacobs explored the macabre in several of his tales. "The Monkey's Paw" is probably the best example of this. The story opens with the White family spending a cozy evening together around the hearth. An old friend of Mr. White's comes to visit them. Sergeant-Major Morris, home after more than twenty years in India, entertains his hosts with exotic stories of life abroad. He also sells to Mr. White a mummified monkey's paw, said to have had a spell put on it by a holy man that will grant its owner three wishes. Morris warns the Whites not to wish on it at all—but of course they do, with horrible consequences.
Jacobs uses foreshadowing, imagery and symbolism in this story to explore the consequences of tempting fate. His careful, economical creation of setting and atmosphere add suspense to the tale, while his use of dialogue and slang (another Jacobs trademark) help readers to feel that the characters are genuine.