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Historical Context in The Monkey's Paw

The British Empire in Asia: In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the British Empire was expansive, stretching across various continents and encompassing hundreds of millions of inhabitants. The growth of the empire’s East India Company, which transported various natural resources, textiles, and opium from the company’s base back to Europe, spurred colonial monopoly in the area. British travels to Asia, both military and commercial, became more frequent, and returnees often brought back tall tales with which to regale their friends. Because of a lack of cultural understanding or sensitivity, many British travellers were fascinated by what they perceived as “exotic” East Asia, leading to a superstitious view of artifacts and people from the region.

Automation in the Second Industrial Revolution: Beginning in the late 19th century, Britain underwent another major shift in industrial production following its previous period of progress in the late 17th through mid-18th centuries. The most prominent development was that of increased automation in factories. Although the use of heavy machinery increased, it would take some time before workers’ safety was sufficiently account for, making factory work an often dangerous experience. The quick and efficient manufacture of goods allowed Great Britain to further cement themselves as a global economic powerhouse.

Historical Context Examples in The Monkey's Paw:


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"fakir..."   (I.)

The noun “fakir” refers to a person of Muslim (or sometimes Hindu) religion who lives off of the charity of others. Often, fakirs were thought to be magical or in possession of objects with supernatural powers. This is partly because of the Englishes’ tendency at the time to view those of other heritages as otherworldly.

"spoke of wild scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange peoples...."   (I.)

In the narrator’s descriptions of Morris’s travels, the English fascination with “exotic” Asia becomes explicit. No scenes are described in detail, but instead are summarized into broad, romantic-sounding categories of danger and exploration. Predictably, the Whites gather around his chair, enraptured with his tales.

"fakirs..."   (I.)

"Fakirs" are members of a Muslim religious group known for performing a fast spinning dance as part of worship.

"to go to India..."   (I.)

Sergeant-Major Morris served in India, a country which was part of the British Empire until it became an independent nation in 1947.

""He was caught in the machinery,"..."   (II.)

Although England was continuing to industrialize and automated heavy machinery was becoming more widespread, workers’ safety and rights did not keep pace with new workplace practices. Though tragic, Herbert’s fate was not uncommon at the time.

"Maw and Meggins.'"..."   (II.)

Maw and Meggins is not a real company, but judging from details readers learn about Herbert’s employment and the industry growing in England at the time, it is likely that it is some type of factory—perhaps of textiles, judging from the cotton on his clothes.

" She then waited as patiently as her sex would permit,..."   (II.)

In this line, the historical notion of the time that women were more emotional and impatient than men is on display. However, given the mystery of the monkey’s paw, it is unsurprising that Mrs. White finds it difficult to contain her excitement at what news the wealthy visitor brings.

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