The Monkey's Paw Critical Overview
by W. W. Jacobs

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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

Popular with readers and critics alike (P.G. Wodehouse hailed him as a master writer), Jacobs was a prolific writer who published 19 volumes between 1896 and 1926. He wrote short stories, novels, and plays, although critics agree that he was most accomplished at the short story form. Despite the fact that most of his stories were humorous tales of life on the English waterfront at the turn of the century, his most famous story is "The Monkey's Paw," which James Harding in The Reference Guide to Short Fiction called ''a little masterpiece of horror by an unusually gifted writer.''

Jacobs is known for his deft, economical scene-setting and his neat, logical plots, two characteristics which are easily visible in "The Monkey's Paw." His stories show a gradation in humor. Many of them could be considered comedies, but Jacobs also began to experiment with what later became known as "black humor." This vein of writing led him to deal in the macabre, crafting pieces like "The Interruption" (Sea Whisper), about a man who murders his wife for her money and is then blackmailed by his housekeeper. He plans to poison the housekeeper but his plans go awry, and he dies instead. Another macabre story, "Jerry Bundler" (Light Freights), is a ghost story in which no ghost actually appears—similar to the last scene in "The Monkey's Paw," in which we believe that the mangled, ghost- or zombie-like Herbert is at the door—but never see him.

Jacobs published his first collection of short-stories, Many Cargoes , in 1896. The book was well received by both readers and critics. G.K. Chesterton, who was regarded as one of England's premier men of letters during the first half of the twentieth century, gave the book a glowing review, favoring Jacobs over Rudyard Kipling: "Mr. Jacobs is in a real sense a classic...compared with...

(The entire section is 467 words.)