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The Fate Is Inescapable English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1492 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Throughout the ages, literature has consistently reflected the activities and interests of a people of a certain place and time. Therefore, some themes have been dominant in literature from the Anglo-Saxon times to the present. One of these themes is fate and chance that is explored in the turn-of-the twentieth century short story “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs.

William Wymark Jacobs was born on September 8, 1863, to a wharf manager and his wife. He grew up in Wapping, London, England, on the docks and wharves of its seaport towns. As a teenager, Jacobs attended private school, and entered the civil service industry at sixteen, getting a job as a clerk. When he was twenty years old, Jacobs began to write stories for fun while keeping his job for the industry. By 1885, at twenty-two years old, he began to publish his stories in the local magazines. However, it was not until Jacobs published his third book in 1899, at the age of thirty six, that he quit his civil service job in order to devote his life to his writing (Wilson 147). Jacobs died in 1943, but in the 1960’s his stories were revived and published as a, still, popular short story.

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Jacobs’s writing took place about the turn-of-the twentieth century and is considered to be one of the most popular humorists of his time. He experimented with his writing style, later developing what is known as black humor (Wilson 153). Black humor is a form of humor that regards human suffering as absurd rather than pitiable, or that considers human existence as ironic and pointless but somehow comic. Jacobs also used, to his advantage, foreshadowing throughout the story and especially during his opening scene of “The Monkey’s Paw.” When Mr. White puts his king into “sharp unnecessary perils” – and soon sees “a fatal mistake after it was too late” (151) demonstrates his use of foreshadowing by telling a mini drama that relates to what is about to happen in the story. Due to Jacobs’s unique use of black humor, he is most famous for writing a particular type of story rather than for any particular work piece (146). Jacobs’ most famous short story, “The Monkey’s Paw”, was published in 1902, when he was thirty nine years old, and is considered to be a horror classic (147). He wrote most of his writing in a fifteen year period around the turn-of-the twentieth century. For the majority, this short story takes place in the White’s home, which is said to be based off of where Jacobs grew up in Wapping, London, England (154). The only exception is Sergeant-Major Morris encounters in India.

With Jacobs’ careful, economical creation of setting and atmosphere, he adds suspense to the tale and his use of dialogue and slang helps readers feel that the characters are genuine (Wilson 147). Throughout the story there are five main characters that are able to bring this story alive. First, is Herbert White, the son of Mr. and Mrs. White. He initially teases his parents about wishing on the monkey’s paw, thus stimulating his father into making the first wish. Consequently for attempting to change his fate, Herbert dies in a tragic accident at work. His death is related to his refusal to take the powers of the monkey’s paw more seriously (149). Next, is Mr. White, Herbert’s father. Even though he is easily influenced, he is the one who makes things happen. Sergeant-Major Morris attempts to burn the paw, but Mr. White rescues it from the fire, and then later purchases it from Morris going against his original wishes. As the new owner of the monkey’s paw, Mr. White is the person who makes all three wishes, and sets the story in motion (149). Then there is Mrs. White, Mr. White’s wife and Herbert’s mother. She is the one who influences Mr. White to make the second wish, to bring Herbert back to life. Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. White forget to wish him back whole and well. Moments before she is about to open the door to see Herbert, Mr. White makes his third wish for Herbert to disappear again. In the end, Mrs. White loses her beloved son, Herbert, twice (150). Next is Sergeant-Major Morris; without him there would be no story. He is the one who initially brings the monkey’s paw into the story. Although he warns the Whites of the powers, the Whites obviously do not listen (148). The last character to appear in short story is known as the stranger. He is the representative from Herbert’s work who brings the news of Herbert’s’ death and two hundred pounds for compensation. He brings the news of Herbert’s death to the family. This character symbolically represents death, or fate (148). With characters comes conflict and the conflict of this story arises when Mr. White’s desire for easy money leads him to challenge his fate. This violation brings his family horrible consequences (Mowery 154). The plot shows that if one tries to manipulate ordinary reality by and unnatural process, destiny is violated and that person will pay the ultimate penalty (Brewer). With this also comes the irony of the story when the turn of events shows how trying to change ones fate upsets the existing balance and produces a climactic counter reaction of consequences (156).

The overall theme in Jacobs’ short story, “The Monkey’s Paw” is fate and chance. Fate is inescapable and is a serious concern in Jacobs’s stories. If the main character interferes with the inevitable, serious consequences will occur (Mowery 154). Mr. White’s greed blinded him of his violation of fate. After Herbert’s death Mrs. White caves into greed by wishing her son to be back to life. Their failure to learn from their first interference with fate leads them to pay the ultimate price later (155). The Sergeant-Major tells the Whites in the beginning that a fakir, or a holy man, has put a spell on the monkey’s paw reveal that fate rules all men’s lives and that those who tamper with it do so with sadness and loss:

As the story unfolds, author Jacobs provides many hints that, indeed, the monkey’s paw does possess strange powers, and that tempting fate by making the three wishes is a grave mistake…. And so, in spite of the original warning of the fakir, the story of the first owner of the monkey’s paw, who wished for death at the end, and the warnings of their friend Morris, the Whites attempt to interfere with fate, with terrible consequences…. By tempting fate, and wishing for money, the Whites lose something even more precious: their son, and their happy life as a family. (Wilson 150)

All the signs were pointing towards the obvious, all the Whites needed to do were take the hints and they would have been able to avoid this situation completely. An intense desire often leads to unfulfilled expectations, or unintended consequences. It was the Whites’ ignorance that led to this catastrophe.

As the story unfolds, Jacobs hints that the monkey’s paw possesses strange, special powers to punish one for tempting fate (Wilson 150). If Mr. White would have just let the monkey’s paw burn like Morris intended to do, then the whole tragic situation could have been avoided (Harkey 158). Had Mr. White learned to accept life for what it is his son would still be living and the family would feel whole again. The plot shows that if in ordinary life, one violates destiny and tries to manipulate their fate, he/she will pay a severe penalty which reflects the theme of fate and chance (Brewer). Jacobs is constantly reminding his reader to be careful for what they wish for, because it might just come true.

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Jacobs works the stories theme – the inability to change fate – through the plot and also uses it to help organize his narrative. The individual parts of “The Monkey’s Paw” contribute to his tightly integrated whole of a story (Dziemianowicz 158). The futility his characters experience trying to improve their life with the monkey’s paw is mirrored in the structure of three parts of the story; the monkey’s paw grants three wishes, the Whites are the third party to benefit from it, and there is three members of the White family (156). Jacobs expertly is able to calculate this type of repetitive number form of the theme and the plot of his story. Jacobs has the extraordinary power to do so, which explains why he is still on top of today’s horror fiction and its effectiveness (158).

Overall, W.W. Jacobs has expertly crafted “The Monkey’s Paw” into a famous British fiction short story that examines the theme of fate and chance. It was considered to be one of the most famous short story horror fictions of its time, and it still is today.


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