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Themes

In "The Monkey's Paw" we watch as the White family is transformed from a loving trio into a grief-stricken duo with the death of Herbert White. We can all relate to this aspect of the story. The loss of a loved one is one of the hardest things to deal with in life. "The Monkey's Paw" can be seen as a story about how one family deals with the death of their last living son, and the frightening possibility that he could be brought back to life. For Mrs. White, death is the worst possible fate for her son, and she'd prefer him alive, no matter the cost. Mr. White, on the other hand, seems to believe that there is a fate worse than death for his son – being some kind of mangled, undead monster.

After a loved one dies, people often wonder whether they could have done anything to prevent the tragedy. For example, if there was no monkey's paw in this story, Mrs. White might have blamed herself for not stopping Herbert from going to work that day. We know that W.W. Jacobs lost his mother when he was young. His firsthand knowledge of the grieving process certainly must have influenced and maybe even inspired this story.

In 1902 England mortality rates were high due to a variety of diseases and lack of today's medical technologies. There were also many deaths and even more accidents related to factory work, like that done by Herbert White. The story thus taps into something that was touching the lives of many of its readers.

Questions About Death

  1. Does the paw have anything to do with Herbert's death?
  2. Do you think Mr. White succeeds in wishing Herbert back to life?
  3. It seems like Mr. White's third wish is for Herbert to be dead again. Why would he wish that? If you were in his position, would you do the same thing? Do you think Mr. White does this for Herbert's sake or for the sake of himself and his wife?
  4. Does knowing that Herbert had siblings who died change the way you see the Whites? Why or why not?
  5. Do you think we live in a dangerous time? What are the most common causes of death today? What were they in the early 1900s? What has changed and why?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

W.W. Jacobs uses the genre of horror literature to explore a serious issue in society – unsafe working conditions in factories, which often result in injury or death.

Mr. White spends his third wish to make sure Herbert is dead again. He does this for Herbert's sake.

When Mr. White wishes Herbert dead again, he does this for his wife's sake.

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