Study Guide

The Monkey's Paw Technology and Modernization

By W.W. Jacobs

Technology and Modernization

"That's the worst of living so far out," bawled Mr. White, with sudden and unlooked-for violence; "of all the beastly, slushy, out-of-the-way places to live in, this is the worst. Pathway's a bog, and the road's a torrent. I don't know what people are thinking about. I suppose because only two houses on the road are let, they think it doesn't matter." (1.6)

This passage points to the movement of people from isolated rural areas into the cities during the early 1900s in England. The Whites only have one neighbor and don't get many visitors because their place is hard to get to.

"Twenty-one years of it," said Mr. White, nodding at his wife and son. "When [Sergeant-Major Morris] went away he was a slip of a youth in the warehouse. Now look at him." (1.14)

Morris has spent most of his life in India in the army. He's bringing back new ideas to England, as represented by the paw. This is another aspect of modernization, the exchange of ideas as people from very different cultures interact.

"I'd like to go to India myself," said the old man, "just to look round a bit, you know." (1.16)

"Better where you are," said the sergeant-major, shaking his head. He put down the empty glass, and sighing softly, shook it again. (1.17)

Mr. White has been unable to participate in the changes going on in the world. He is isolated from the exploration of different lands, and from the factory life in the city. Whether he likes it or not, these things will intrude on his happy life before the story ends.

"He was caught in the machinery," said the visitor at length, in a low voice.

"Caught in the machinery," repeated Mr. White, in a dazed fashion, "yes." (2.22)

This is our first clue about the kind of work Herbert does. Factory jobs were common for men in England in the early 1900s. This work was dangerous, due to the lack of laws protecting workers and the fact that machines were still being perfected. These lines also reflect the sense of powerlessness that pervades the story. Everybody seems caught in the machinery of life, unable to find happiness.

"I was to say that Maw and Meggins disclaim all responsibility," continued the other. "They admit no liability at all, but in consideration of your son's services they wish to present you with a certain sum as compensation." (2.25)

As machines became more and more a part of human life, the people who own them came to be seen as cold and unfeeling. Herbert seems almost disposable to his employers; he is only valuable as a person who can operate a machine. Do we still have anxieties about machines today?