Would you call “The Monkey’s Paw” primarily a plot story, a character story, an atmosphere story or a combination? Give reasons for your answer.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

W.W. Jacobs's "The Monkey's Paw" is a story whose primary element is its plot.  Critic Stefan Dziemianowicz writes,

A deceptively simple tale, it reveals on close inspection Jacobs' meticulous attention to narrative structure and careful handling of foreshadowing, symbolism, and other narrative elements that contribute to its eerie effect.

Three, that magical and spiritual number that is filled with fateful meaning, controls the plot. First of all, the plot is divided into three parts with each of these parts having the arrival of a character as its central focus.  In Part I, the sergeant-major, who years before had worked with Mr. White at the warehouse, visits after having traveled in foreign countries and been stationed in India.  In Part II, the insurance respresentative comes to the White's home, and in Part III, the mangled corpse returns in horror to the house.  Of course, the first visitor lays the way for the visits of the other two men so that the action of Part II, thus, depends upon that of Part I, with the action of Part III dependent upon that of Part II.  Using this arrangement, Jacobs clearly develops the theme of the inevitability of fate.

In another carely structured sequence of events, fire also comes in threes, and its symbolism is carefully structured by plot.  First, the sergeant-major throws the monkey's paw into the fire, which can be symbolic of either destruction or purification, but Mr. White retrieves it to wish upon the paw.  Secondly, after making his wish, Mr. White and Herbert smoke their pipes as they gaze at the dying fire, a symbol of their disappearing happiness. Thirdly, as Mr. White wishes for Herbert to return to life, the candle fire goes out, and Mr. White must strike a match and descend the stairs for a candle.  But, as he reaches the bottom of the stairs, the match goes out; when he hears a knock and identifies the horror, Mr. White returns to his wife.  Their lives have lost direction and soon the only light in it is the desolate lamp that flickers over the deserted road, symbolizing the Whites' empty life without Herbert.

In a similar fashion, the foreshadowing and imagery also further the sequence of events in "The Monkey's Paw."  In Part I, for instance, Mr. White and Herbert play chess; however, the father takes reckless chances, suggestive of his wishing on the monkey's paw despite the exhortations of the sergeant-major.  In another instance of foreshadowing, "a fine crash from the piano" greets the father's wish for two hundred pounds," connoting the crash that later kills Herbert.  As the wind picks up, there is

A silence unusual and depressing [that]settle upon all three, which last until the old couple rose to retire for the night.

Clearly, this passage foreshadows the emptiness in the hearts of the parents at the story's end as they return to their lonely bedroom.

A meticulously constructed narrative with carefully structured events with foreshadowing, imagery, and symbolism the plot of The Monkey's Paw is unquestionably the most significant element of this short story.