What is your response to the story "The Monkey's Paw"?
Since a reader's response is a personal reaction to a literary text, this is in contrast to other theories that focus on the author, his style, or content of the work. For a genuine reader's response, the student should really answer this question as it is meant to be the emotional and intellectual reactions by the individual reader.
According to Lois Tyson of Carleton College, theorists of reader-response share two beliefs:
1) that the role of the reader cannot be omitted from our understanding of literature and
2) that readers do not passively consume the meaning presented to them by an objective literary text; rather they actively make the meaning they find in literature.
Certainly, readers' responses are formulated from their personal experiences that they bring to the work of literature. Therefore, each respond will react individually. However, since there may be some experiences that readers share, responses will demonstrate some comparative qualities.
Here, then, are two examples of responses from which the reader may draw his/her own responses:
- One reader response that may be shared by others involves the act of questioning why the Whites would even want the monkey's paw when they are told by the sergeant major of the tragedies of others and warned, "Better let it burn" in the fire into which he has tossed it. For, he is a man respected by Mr. White, that the paw has brought nothing but misfortune to people. (And, yet, one wonders why he even brought the paw to the Whites' home.)
- Another response that may well be shared by readers is why the Whites were not more careful and specific about their second wish when the first impetuous one has wrought such tragedy. For, while it is understandable that the "presumptuous youth" of Herbert prevents his caution, Mr. and Mrs. White are older and more experienced. If they have embraced the concept of magic and fortune, then within this context, they certainly should have carefully pondered all the variables that could occur with their second wish and been much more specific.
In the 1902 short story “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs, a sergeant comes to visit the home of the White family—mother, father, and son—and brings with him a monkey’s paw that has the power to grant its owner three wishes, but warns the family against using the monkey’s paw and pleads with them to destroy it. However, they decide to take a risk instead, and the son tells his father to wish for two hundred pounds; the father obeys. At first, nothing happens except for a loud crash when the wish is made, but the following day a messenger comes to the house to inform the White family that their son was killed at work by the machinery and the company will compensate them for their loss with a sum of two hundred pounds. In the following days, Mr. and Mrs. White attempt to deal with their grief, but when Mrs. White can no longer handle it she insists that her husband use another wish to wish their son alive again. Against his will he does, but as his wife runs down to answer a knock at the door, out of fear for what creature will have returned, Mr. White makes his third and final wish and the knocking stops.
One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is when the reader knows, or has an idea, of what is going to happen but the characters do not. It creates tension and suspense for the reader, keeping us engaged. The dramatic irony of this story is that the reader knows even before it happens that the White family will use the monkey’s paw to make a wish and something terrible will happen, though the reader does not know exactly what. We know this from early on when the sergeant warns the White family that the paw will bring sorrow. On page two the sergeant says to them, “‘If you keep [the monkey’s paw], don’t blame me for what happens. Pitch it on the fire again, like a sensible man,’” and then Mr. White asks for an explanation on how to make the wishes. This scene is crucial because of course the reader knows that the family is going to use the monkey’s paw, otherwise there would not be a story to tell, and the reader is waiting to see what exactly the terrible consequences will be.