Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
One rainy evening, Mr. and Mrs. White and their son, Herbert, wait at their home, Laburnum Villa, for a visitor who knew Mr. White before going to India as a soldier twenty-one years earlier. When Sergeant-Major Morris arrives, the Whites serve him whiskey and seat him before the fire as he relates his experiences in the exotic British territory. Eventually Mr. White returned to the subject of the monkey’s paw that Morris mentioned earlier, but the old soldier tries to put him off, which only excites the family’s curiosity.
The sergeant-major produces the little mummified paw from his pocket, remarking that it had a spell cast on it by an Indian holy man who wanted to illustrate that those who interfere with fate do so to their sorrow. The spell would allow three men each to have three wishes from it. When Herbert asks him why he does not take three wishes himself, the sergeant-major responds soberly that he has. He adds that the first man had had his wishes as well, that the third was for death, and the paw thus had passed on to him. With this explanation, he throws it into the fire. As Mr. White retrieves the paw from the coals, the sergeant-major tells him that he does so at his own peril but reluctantly explains the appropriate manner for making the wishes. Dinner then follows.
After their guest leaves, the Whites discuss the paw. After some thought, Mr. White remarks that he has everything he wants and is unsure what to ask for....
(The entire section is 616 words.)
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The story opens with Mr. White and his son Herbert playing a game of chess. Mrs. White is knitting by the fire. Mr. White loses the game and becomes agitated and exasperated. Soon, there is a knock at the door and the Sergeant-Major enters. They share a few drinks and the Sergeant-Major tells them some tales about his trips to India, where he obtained a monkey's paw. The paw is magical, allowing three men three wishes each. One man has died and the Sergeant-Major has used up his three wishes. He tosses the paw into the fire, but Mr. White snatches it out and keeps it for himself. The Sergeant-Major tells them that a fakir has put a spell on the paw "to show that fate ruled people's lives," Those who tamper with fate "did so to their sorrow." But Herbert coaxes his father to wish for something modest, like 200 pounds. His father does so, while Herbert plays dramatic chords on the piano in accompaniment. They all go to bed for the night.
In the morning, Herbert leaves for work and tells his parents not to break into the money before he comes home that evening. Mr. and Mrs. White make light-hearted comments about Herbert's return and his reactions to an arrival of the money.
Later, a stranger comes to the door and, after coining into the house, tells the parents that Herbert has been killed at work that morning when he was caught in some machinery. The stranger then gives them compensation from the company: 200 pounds.
(The entire section is 478 words.)