From the late 1700s to the mid 1800s, British society underwent a huge transformation, known as the Industrial Revolution. Lots of factories were built in cities, providing many of jobs. At the same time, because of advances in agricultural technology, fewer workers were needed on farms. This led people to leave the countryside and move into cities in droves.
The Whites seem to be an exception to this rule. We get the impression that they live in an isolated, almost-forgotten area. Herbert commutes to his factory job by train. The factory's reaction to Herbert's death speaks not only to the dangerous working conditions in factories at the time, but also to the rise of feelings of alienation brought by increased industrialization and mechanization. Herbert is important to the company only as a worker, someone to run the machinery, not as a flesh-and-blood human being.
Questions About Technology and Modernization
- Herbert is injured in a factory accident. Have you heard of or can you find examples of factory accidents or workplace injuries in the news today? How might working conditions of the early 1900s compare with working conditions today?
- What technologies exist today that did not exist in 1900? If you were to adapt the story to our own time, what technologies might you include and why?
- Based on the visit from the man from Maw and Meggins, how do you think the company views its employees?
Chew on This
Through "The Monkey's Paw," Jacobs is commenting on the dangerous work conditions resulting from technological advances in the early 1900s.
Living in an isolated area, Mr. and Mrs. White are mostly cut off from technology and modernization. Through Herbert's accident, technology intrudes tragically into their lives.