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Without examining the text, which I have read many times over many years, I would say that what I recall most vividly in "The Monkey's Paw" is the isolated setting of the tiny house and the bad weather conditions. Next I recall how Sergeant-Major Morris tells the White's that the previous owner of the monkey's paw wished for death after experiencing the results of his first two wishes. I experienced the horror that Mr. White felt when he made his first wish and the shriveled paw twisted in his hand. Then there was the news that Herbert had not just been killed in an accident at work but that he had been dragged into the machinery and horribly mangled. This image comes back to my mind when the ominous knocking at the door begins. I am afraid that Mrs. White is going to get the door open and both of us will have to look at the monster that was her likeable son returned from the dead. Not only will I see Herbert, but I will have to witness his mother's reaction when she sees him. She will scream, she will lose her mind. What will Mr. White do if he comes running? I feel relieved when he uses his third wish to make the knocker go away without my ever having to look at him. I feel relieved when they open the door and see nothing but the empty road. I can remember feeling pity for the two old parents whose lives are so completely empty after they have lost their son. I remember the shock I felt when the man from Maw and Miggins told them the company was going to pay them two hundred pounds as compensation for the loss of their son. The disproportion between the loss and the compensation was so great that it seems as if the Whites had unwittingly antagonized a mighty universal force and brought a terrible supernatural wrath down upon their heads by making a modest wish. It seemed that these simple people had inadvertently interfered with the laws that hold the entire universe together.
W. W. Jacobs deliberately chose to have these horrible, monstrous, uncanny events occur in a humdrum little suburban setting. The fact that Mr. White had a friend who was a sergeant-major recently returned from India explains how such a fantastic series of events could intrude into the simple, humble lives of these three working-class people. The monkey's paw, with it's curse, came all the way from India to work its apparent magic which, as Mrs. White says, sounds like The Arabian Nights. It is the contrast between the commonplace English setting and the supernatural mystique of the East that makes this story so effective. India is not described by Sergeant-Major Morris, but we can imagine that settings from all the other stories we have read about it by Rudyard Kipling, E. M. Forster, Somerset Maugham, and many others.
The monkey's paw itself seems like a horrid little object. It was not only small to begin with, since it belonged to a monkey, but now it has become mummified. Yet because it resembles a human hand, it seems to suggest the presence of an inscrutable mind and a potentially malignant will. We can understand why Sergeant-Major Morris throws it into the fire, but we can also understand the impulse that makes Mr. White jump up to retrieve it. If I had such a magical talisman, I would be tempted to make a first wish, just like Mr. White. That is the aspect of the story that holds my interest throughout. If the first wish brings misfortune, still there are two wishes left. Surely the second wish can undo the damage done by the first one! But it makes matters worse. And then there is only one wish left. I can understand why the first man who owned the monkey's paw made his last wish a wish for death.
Sergeant-Major Morris, like so many other Englishmen, has seen all kinds of strange wonders over there. His military bearing and solemn manner lend credibility to his tale. He does not describe any of the things that happened to himself or the other man who used the monkey's paw, but the possibilities are left to the reader's imagination, just as the reader is left to imagine the appearance of whoever--or whatever--is knocking so insistently on the front door. The story has overtones suggesting that the monkey's paw might symbolize retribution for the British attempt to colonize and dominate a land so much older, larger, wiser, and more spiritually oriented than their own.
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