How does W.W. Jacobs reveal character in "The Monkey's Paw"?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Character traits in "The Monkey's Paw" are revealed by the attitude that each individual displays towards the mystical talisman of the title. For instance, Herbert's eager questioning of the sergeant-major about the monkey's paw and the three wishes shows him to be a naive and slightly immature young man. He's fascinated by the paw and sees it as something incredibly strange and exciting. But he lacks any sense of danger, any sense that the monkey's paw represents dark, demonic forces that shouldn't be messed around with on any account.

Mrs. White seems initially to regard the tale of the monkey's paw as a bit of a joke, a harmless piece of mumbo jumbo. To her, it all sounds like something out of the Arabian Nights—like the story of Aladdin, perhaps. Maybe she should make a wish for four pairs of hands, she muses. Indeed, everyone at this point in the story thinks that the whole thing is just a huge joke. All except the sergeant-major, that is. His attitude towards the monkey's paw is solemn and serious; he knows what harm it can cause if not handled properly.

For his part, Mr. White is profoundly skeptical about the whole business. He can't quite believe that he's become involved in something that appears so utterly ridiculous. Nevertheless, he still goes ahead with making a wish:

His father, smiling shamefacedly at his own credulity, held up the talisman, as his son, with a solemn face, somewhat marred by a wink at his mother, sat down and struck a few impressive chords. "I wish for two hundred pounds," said the old man distinctly.

Yet, Mr. White's character appears to have just a little more depth than the others. Although he initially regarded the monkey's paw legend as a bit of harmless folklore, he soon comes to feel that perhaps there's more to it than meets the eye:

He sat alone in the darkness, gazing at the dying fire, and seeing faces in it. The last was so horrible and so simian that he gazed at it in amazement. It got so vivid that, with a little uneasy laugh, he felt on the table for a glass containing a little water to throw over it. His hand grasped the monkey's paw, and with a little shiver he wiped his hand on his coat and went up to bed.

As well as revealing another of Mr. White's character traits, this passage provides us with an example of foreshadowing, hinting at the horrific events that are about to unfold.

 

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jacobs mostly reveals character traits indirectly in “The Monkey’s Paw.”  For example, he does not say that Mr. White is satisfied with his life.  Instead, Mr. White cannot find anything to wish for. 

“It seems to me I've got all I want."

Another example of indirect characterization is Herbert’s reaction.  The narrator does not say that Herbert is ambitious, but Herbert has ideas of things to wish for.

"Likely," said Herbert, with pretended horror. "Why, we're going to be rich, and famous, and happy. Wish to be an emperor, father, to begin with; then you can't be henpecked."

This reaction also shows that Herbert is playful and does not take the paw seriously.

Finally, the narrator does not directly say that Mr. White is practical, but in the end he uses the last wish to wish his son is dead, to undo whatever horror his wife caused by wishing him alive.