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Analysis of The Monkeys Paw by W. W. Jacobs: A Study in Lateral Thinking


I first read The Monkey's Paw as a youngster in Junior High School. I was touched by how an elderly couple received the gift that everyone would want, three wishes, and how the gift turned into a curse.

I knew something was wrong at the beginning of the story when the previous owner tried to throw it in a fire. I also had a suspicion that though the paw granted wishes, it wouldn't work the way the person making the wish intended. Years later, I saw the Movie "Bedazzled" with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. It's a version of the Faust legend, and hilarious. The Devil (Peter Cook), offers to trade seven wishes for Dudley Moore's character's soul. Dudley is madly in love with a young woman and is more than willing to trade something as worthless as a soul to win her. What the devil does with Moore's wishes makes for one of the funniest movies in the history of film-making. But I didn't know about "Bedazzled" in 8th Grade.

The couple, being older, quite naturally asked for money. And not a great deal, at that. They never realized that it would come as an insurance claim on the death of their son who was working in a factory. Grief-stricken, they ask for their son to come back to them. When they hear the shuffling steps and smell rotting flesh, they wish that it would go away.

What a rotten ending, right?

At the time I read it, my English Teacher, Miss Gordon, asked the class what we thought of the story. We all felt sorry for the couple. Should the couple have wished for something else with their first wish. Of course they should have, we all said. But of course, no matter what they asked for, it could have turned out as badly for them. And the previous owner had said it was a curse and not a blessing.

Miss Gordon wasn't about to stop there. Next she asked, should they have asked for son to come back to life? Of course, we all said. But not as a walking corpse.

Then came the biggest question of all. Should they have wished he wouldn't come back?

Nearly everyone in class agreed with what the couple did. That was supposed to be the end of the story.

I wasn't as eager to give up. "They wished for the wrong thing," I said.

Miss Gordon was ready to move on to a new lesson and she wasn't too pleased with me. "And how's that."

"They should have wished that the whole thing never happened because they let the man burn the monkey's paw."

"I never thought of that," my teacher said.

Today, people would call this thinking outside the box. It doesn't require great brilliance, but you do have to try to imagine other alternatives than the ones that are presented to you.

I made another teacher unhappy when I was in the 6th Grade, Miss Janitz was beginning a lesson on archeology. Everyone in the class really was eager to learn about mummies and ancient cities and she gave us a scenario where an archeologist is digging in the sand in Egypt. He finds an ancient box with a hairbrush, a necklace, and a coin dated 38 BC.

I immediately broke out laughing. All the other kids gave me a strange look but I couldn't stop. Finally Miss Janitz said, "Stop that, John. What's so funny?"

"The coin isn't real. You can't have something dated BC before there's a C.'

It turned out I had spoiled her whole three days of classes.

John Anderson has always tried to think outside the box, often with disastrous results. As a stamp dealer, he was always three years ahead of the market and seldom made a profit. He wrote a crime novel involving mitochondrial DNA five years before forensic experts began to use the procedure. His novel, The Cellini Masterpiece, and written under the penname of Raymnd John, is another example of bad timing. Its plot, which is similar to The Da Vinci code, was rejected in the mid-1980s because it was considered by some reviewers to be too unbelievable. Anyone interested in contacting him should log on to http://www.cmasterpiece.com


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