illustration of an open-faced monkey's paw with a skull design on the palm

The Monkey's Paw

by W. W. Jacobs

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List and define 10 words that were difficult to understand in the story "The Monkey's Paw."

W. W. Jacobs wrote the story "The Monkey's Paw" using heightened diction to create a foreboding effect and also used words such as "fakir" meant to evoke the idea of India as the exotic "other." Some other words that often create confusion include fakir, rubicund, simian, credulity, and talisman.

Expert Answers

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W. W. Jacobs published this story in 1902 in England, so the more than one hundred years difference between then and now, and the fact that Jacobs is using British English (which by 1902 was beginning to diverge a bit from American English) can pose some difficulties for the modern reader. Jacobs also wrote in a traditional rather than a modern style. Some critics have called his writing Victorian, and he did begin to establish his writing career in that era.

Further, he was a genre writer, writing in the comedy and horror genre, and both of those genres often rely on a heightened or exaggerated diction (word choice) for effect. In this story, he is trying to create a mysterious and creepy feeling about India as the exotic orientalized "other."

I will get you started with choosing words that from my own experience students have trouble with, but this is really an assignment that relies on your own reading experience, so I would suggest you go back and see what words are interfering with your understanding of the story and look up the definitions of the words on my list. Merely defining words on my list, however, is not going to help you to the extent that going back into the story will.

My list is as follows:

  • Amiably: pleasantly or happily—in this context, Mr. White is happily trying to divert his attention from his blunder on the chess board.
  • Simian: apelike or monkey-like
  • Rubicund: a ruddy or red skin tone
  • Antimacassar: a doily or cloth spread over the back of a chair. It keeps hair that might be oiled or greased from making a stain on the furniture.
  • Fakirs: A Hindu or Muslim holy man
  • Wont: habit

Other words that may be confusing are as follows:

  • Presumptuous
  • Talisman
  • Credulity
  • Condoling

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