Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
W. W. Jacobs was well known during his lifetime for his light, humorous novels and stories about England’s dockyards but is now remembered only for “The Monkey’s Paw.” Although this story exhibits traces of Jacobs’s characteristic humor and insight into the prosaic lives of his subjects, it seems to have been rejected by The Strand, which regularly published his work. Whatever that magazine’s reservations about its unpleasant content, it is recognized today as one of the best supernatural stories ever written and is frequently anthologized.
“The Monkey’s Paw” is effective not only for what Jacobs does but for what he refrains from doing. A master of economical, unobtrusive prose, he sets a cozy scene—a chess game in front of a fire, a cold and windy night outside—in a few strokes. Only later does one realize how closely the rest of the story recapitulates the elements of this first brief scene, as the Whites make their moves in a fateful and fatal game while the forces of darkness swirl just beyond the comfortable circle of their lives.
Alongside Jacobs’s gently humorous touches are macabre examples of what since has come to be known as black humor. One such moment occurs when the sergeant-major panics at Mrs. White’s suggestion that she be granted extra hands—a wish that the reader later realizes might have had a grotesque fulfillment. Another such moment occurs immediately after Mr. White’s first wish,...
(The entire section is 554 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!