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Essay: Compare Greed in Macbeth and Mr. White: Shakespeare vs Jacobs

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  • Published: 23 March 2023*
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  • Tags: Macbeth essays

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What is greed? Greed is the “intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.” You can find the concept of greed in both characters Macbeth and Mr. White. Shakespeare and W.W. Jacobs characterize their protagonists as malleable to emphasize that greed is a powerful emotion which can manipulate one’s decision making.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth forms a strong bond with Banquo; however, that bond diminishes when Macbeth loses trust in Banquo. He begins to overthink and makes himself believe that Banquo’s honorable nature will stop him from becoming as king. “But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo/ Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature/ Reigns that which would be feared.” (Shakespeare 3.1.52-55). Macbeth states his hesitation towards trusting Banquo now that his mind has been filled with the desire for the crown. This sense of greed has weakened Macbeth’s mind from thinking straight, causing it to be easily messed with; malleable. Leaving his mind in a vulnerable position, Macbeth let his desires take control of his conscience to the point where he murdered Banquo. Shakespeare also uses foreshadowing throughout the story to emphasize the impact of greed on Macbeth. At first, Macbeth was hesitant toward giving in; but once he achieved the prophecy of becoming Thane of Cawdor, his desire for more power kept growing.

The Monkey’s Paw, by W.W. Jacobs, is a story about a small family who meets a sergeant-major with beady eyes, broad shoulders, and many stories of experiences to tell. Eager to hear about Sergeant-Major Morris’ experiences, Mr. White asked Morris about the story of the monkey’s paw that Morris started telling him earlier. Surprisingly, Morris was reluctant to tell the family about the story. He claimed the story was no huge deal; it only contained a bit of magic. More eager now than last time, the family convinced Morris to tell them the story. Reaching for his pocket, Morris took out a monkey’s paw and began to tell the story. The paw had a spell put on it by an old fakir who wanted to show people that fate rules their lives and those who interfered with fate would regret it. The paw guaranteed three separate wishes to an individual, however, the wishes came with consequences. Morris then stopped his story and threw the paw into the fire. Mr. White, not thinking clearly, picked up the paw from the fire to save it. “White, with a slight cry, stooped down and snatched it off…’ If you don’t want it, Morris, give it to me’.” (Jacobs 2). Once hearing that the paw grants wishes, Mr. White grew a strong desire for the paw. He asked Morris if he could keep the paw, implying that he had the intentions in mind to use it. Jacobs also uses imagery throughout the story to emphasize the impact of greed on the characters, and how “dangling the paw between his front finger and his thumb” tempted Mr. White’s mind to fall under its control. Just like Macbeth, Mr. White became vulnerable and was easily manipulated by his greed. Both characters lost their right conscience and struggled to gain back control of their minds. Macbeth lost his right conscience when chasing after the prophecies and Mr. White got lost in his desires when given the power of making three wishes. Similarly, both characters were shown to have lost their sense of reality when making important decisions.

However, greed drives Macbeth to become numb while it influences Mr. White to be considerate. Macbeth shows he becomes numb to everything when he admits to not feeling fear anymore.

I have almost forgot the taste of fears.
The time has been my senses would have cooled
To hear a night-shriek, and my fell of hair
Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir
As life were in’t. I have supped full with horrors.
Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts,
Cannot once start me. (Shakespeare 5.5.11-17).

Macbeth explains that at one point in his life he would be afraid to hear such a noise but after what he has gone through he doesn’t fear the noise anymore. He implies that he has faced worse fears in his lifetime. Macbeth gives himself a sense of security and a feeling of invincibility. In contrast to Macbeth, Mr. White is considerate after being impacted by his sense of greed: “He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment he found the monkey’s paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.” (Jacobs 6). When Mr. White first received the paw, Herbert, his son, requested his father to wish for two hundred pounds so that the house were to be paid off. Little did Herbert know that the money would come as compensation from the company that he worked for, due to his passing at work. Mrs. White, being devastated by the loss of her son, demanded to use the second wish to bring him back alive. As she wishes, Mrs. White hears her son walking home and knocking at the door. Frantically, she runs down the stairs to unlock the door. Given the few minutes to think, Mr. White realizes that his son is a zombie at the door. Even though their son has come back to life from the dead, he will not be the same as he used to; he will be a walking corpse. Quickly reaching for the paw, Mr. White made his last wish to put his son and everyone else at final rest. Unlike Macbeth, Mr. White was considerate and reflected on his past mistakes to prevent them from further happening. Macbeth, on the other hand, kept on increasing his desire for more and more power and never gave himself enough time to reflect. Mr. White also wasn’t selfish when thinking about his third and final wish. Putting his son back to rest guaranteed safety for his wife, himself, the son, and the entire village too. Macbeth however, was selfish and focused on achieving the most power for himself. Therefore, greed influenced Macbeth to become numb and selfish meanwhile it influenced Mr. White to become considerate.

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