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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What is the rising action in "The Monkey's Paw"?

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The rising action in "The Monkey's Paw" starts with Sergeant-Major Morris telling the White family about the monkey's paw with the power to grant wishes. It continues when Mr. White grabs the paw out of the fire, and the family wishes for £200, which they receive as workplace compensation after the sudden death of their son, Herbert. The rising action concludes when the Whites use the second of their three wishes.

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First things first: let's define rising action. This is the part of a story that happens after the exposition and before the climax. It is an event, or series of events, that creates suspense and piques the reader's interest. The purpose of the rising action is to set the stage for the climax of the story.

The rising action in "The Monkey's Paw" begins when Mr. White asks to hear more about the paw, which Sergeant-Major Morris had mentioned to him in passing earlier. Morris then explains that the paw will grant three holders each three wishes. He makes it clear, however, that it is not a good idea for any member of the White family to become the third person to have his or her wishes granted.

The rising action continues when Mr. White retrieves the paw from the fire into which Morris threw it. The Whites then make their first wish, which is for the money that they need to pay off their mortgage. They get the money, but it comes at an immense price. They receive the £200 as compensation after their son, Herbert, is killed in an accident at work. Herbert's death makes the reader all the more eager to find out what will happen next and how (or if) the second and third wishes will be used.

The last stage of the rising action in this story involves Mr. and Mrs. White using their second wish in an attempt to bring Herbert, who has by this time been dead for ten days, back to life.

This leads into the story's climax, which starts with a knock at the door.

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Rising action takes place between exposition (setting up the characters, setting, and situation of a story) and the climax (the point of highest dramatic tension). The rising action is all about building to the climax and how the conflict escalates to the final confrontation.

In "The Monkey's Paw," the rising action occurs when Mr. White ignores the sergeant-major's warnings about the monkey's paw and makes a wish on it anyway. This generates suspense, leaving the reader to wonder if the sergeant-major's warnings are legitimate and if horrible things will befall the family after Mr. White wishes for two hundred pounds.

When Herbert is killed at work and the Whites receive two hundred pounds as recompense, the tension escalates. Mrs. White goads her husband into wishing their son to return to life, setting the stage for the climax where this does appear to happen.

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The rising action of a story is the way that the plot is established and developed, and the events of the rising action lead up to the story's climax. The plot of "The Monkey's Paw" is established with the arrival of the White family's old friend Seargent-Major Morris. He tells the family stories of his time abroad and eventually begins to talk about the monkey's paw that he says grants wishes—but only at a severe price—which was meant to teach people about the necessity of fate.

The family demands to see the paw, and Mr. White eventually takes it and pays Morris for it, despite Morris's protests. The family confers on what to wish for and settles on Herbert's plan to wish for the money they needed to pay off their house. The next day, Herbert dies at work, and the family receives the exact sum they asked for in the form of Herbert's life insurance. Mr. and Mrs. White are distraught and discuss bringing Herbert back with their remaining wishes, which they finally attempt.

All of these events and any other plot details contained between the first events of the story and the climax (the arrival of the unseen, late-night visitor) listed here can be considered rising actions.

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Rising action can be defined as those events in a story that build suspense and increase the readers' interest. In "The Monkey's Paw" the rising action starts when Sergeant-Major Morris tells the Whites about the paw and how the fakir put a spell on it to grant three wishes. He further tells them that if those wishes are granted then unpleasant consequences will follow. This is what happens to those who defy the power of fate. Morris speaks from personal experience here, and as he doesn't want the Whites to succumb to the temptation of making three wishes on the paw, he throws it into the fire.

Yet, Mr. White retrieves the paw from the fire. This takes the rising action to the next level. Treating the monkey's paw as a harmless piece of mumbo-jumbo, the Whites proceed to make their first wish: to have the £200 they need to pay off their mortgage. Their wish is duly granted, but not in the way that they'd hoped. For their sudden windfall comes in the form of compensation paid out after their son Herbert dies in a workplace accident. At this point in the story, the suspense is building; we're anxious to know what happens next.

The next and final stage of the rising action comes when the Whites use the second of their three wishes to try and bring Herbert back from the dead. This will lead directly to the story's creepy climax.

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In the plot of a short story, the rising action includes a series of events that build toward the point of greatest intensity in the narrative. These series of events begin immediately after the exposition, or introduction of the situation, and they include a problem that leads to the climax, or turning point of the narrative.

W.W. Jacobs's short story, "The Monkey's Paw," begins by introducing the readers to the White family and a guest of theirs, Sergeant Major Morris. Mr. White asks his old friend what it was that the old soldier started to tell him about on their last visit. At this point the rising action begins. 

In this rising action, Morris tells the Whites about his possession of an odd item, a monkey's paw that once belonged to an old fakir. This religious ascetic, who was considered a wonder worker, put a spell upon the paw "so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it." Herbert White, the son, asks the soldier if he does not have three wishes. "I had," the soldier replies.   "And did you really have the three wishes granted?" Mrs. White asks. "I did," the sergeant answers as his teeth chatter against his drinking glass.

"And has anybody else wished?" persisted the old lady.
"The first man had his three wishes, yes," was the reply; "I don't know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That's how I got the paw."
His tones were so grave that a hush fell upon the group.

Mr. White asks Sergeant Major Morris why he keeps the paw if he has had his wishes granted. The solider shakes his head as though he himself does not know his reasons for keeping this strange object. Morris reveals to the Whites that many think he tells a fairy tale. Others want to try one wish first and pay him later, and some simply refuse to buy it. 

Considering what he has heard from Morris, Mr. White asks him if he would take three more wishes if he could have them. The sergeant replies, "I don't know," and he tosses the paw into the fireplace, but Mr. White snatches the paw from the fire. "Better let it burn," his friend tells Mr. White. "If you keep it, don't blame me for what happens."

What to do with the paw is the problem of the rising action. After the old soldier departs, Mr. White pulls the paw from his pocket where he has put it, and then all three of the Whites laugh because they, too, believe what Morris has told them is a fairy tale. However, after they decide he should try a wish, Mr. White wishes for £ 200 [200 British pounds] to pay off the mortgage on their house, and the paw moves. Herbert jokes when no money appears. Nevertheless, "[A] silence and depression settled upon all three" until Herbert's parents retire for the night. Afterwards, as Herbert sits looking into the fire, he sees faces, one of which is "so horrible and so simian that he gazed at it in amazement." As he reaches for a glass of water that is near him on the table, Herbert touches the paw. He shivers and wipes his hand upon his coat.

The next day Mrs. White scolds her family for their credulity: "The idea of our listening to such nonsense!" Yet, after Herbert departs for work, Mr. White insists to his wife that the paw moved in his hand. His wife makes no reply because she watches the movements of a man outside who seems indecisive about knocking on their door. When he does knock and gains entry into the Whites' home, the rising action ends, and the climax begins.

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    The introduction and the history of the talisman is the initial rising action in the W. W. Jacobs short story, "The Monkey's Paw." The Whites inherit the paw from their acquaintance, Sergeant-Major Morris, who reveals the mysterious past of the shriveled hand. When he throws it into the fireplace, Mr. White retrieves it. Morris warns them to wish wisely before leaving for the night.
    The rising action continues as Mr. White makes his first wish.

    "I wish for two hundred pounds," said the old man distinctly.

Mr. White feels the paw move, and a depressing feeling of uneasiness falls upon the family for the remainder of the night. The next morning, Mr. and Mrs. White are paid a visit from the company where their son, Herbert, works. He has been killed in a grisly accident--"caught in the machinery"--and the Whites are offered a compensation of 200 pounds. Although it could be argued that this is the climax to the story, the action actually continues to rise a bit longer as the Whites exercise their second wish--for Herbert to be alive again. The rising action peaks when the Whites realize that their less-than-specific wish has an alternate possibility--that Herbert may be revived but in his deathly, crippled state.

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When does the falling action take place for "The Monkey's Paw"?

In W. W. Jacobs's celebrated short story "The Monkey's Paw," Mr. White saves Sergeant-Major Morris's monkey's paw from the fire and proceeds to wish for two hundred pounds using the magic talisman. Unfortunately, the monkey's paw is cursed, and Mr. White's son Herbert dies in exchange for the two hundred pounds his father wished for. In part 3 of the story, Mrs. White acknowledges the magical powers of the monkey's paw and instructs her husband to use the cursed talisman to make a second wish. Mr. White reluctantly follows her directions and uses the paw to wish for Herbert to return from the grave.

The climax of the story takes place shortly after Mr. White makes his second wish and the couple begins hearing a knocking at their door. The tension of the story reaches a fever pitch as Mrs. White grabs a chair to unlock the top bolt while her husband desperately searches the floor for the monkey's paw to make his final wish. The falling action takes place directly after the climax, when Mr. White finds the paw and makes the final wish moments before his wife unlocks the door. Jacobs writes,

He [Mr. White] heard the movement of the lock as she began to open it, and at the same moment he found the monkey's paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.

The resolution of the story takes place after the falling action when the knocking suddenly stops and the door opens to an empty porch.

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