illustration of an open-faced monkey's paw with a skull design on the palm

The Monkey's Paw

by W. W. Jacobs

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Discuss the characters in "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs.

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In “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs, wishes really do come true, but the outcome may not be what is expected.  In this horror story, the White family receives a “monkey’s paw,” which offers three wishes to the person who receives the paw. 

The characters in the story are basically flat characters.  The reader knows little about them.  On the other hand, Mr. White deals with negative events in his family.  He has to take over that as leader and make decisions that his wife does not like.  He becomes a more round character as the story progresses.

Mrs. White is grief stricken in the story.  She has to relinquish the family control to her husband because she is unable to make logical decisions.

The Victim

Herbert White’s character is not developed.  The reader knows that he is killed senselessly at his work.  Even before Herbert dies, it is obvious that his parents love and admire him.  Herbert also loves them.

Inferentially, Herbert seems responsible and a hard worker.  Spending time with his parents is something that he values.  Sadly, for the Whites, they have lost a model son. Strangely, Herbert is the one who initially wants to see if the monkey’s paw works. 

The Mother

Mrs. White is a strong woman, who probably makes a lot of the decisions for her husband.  She often forces her husband into doing things that he does not want to do and  are wrong. The narrator states that Mrs. White is smarter than her husband. 

Mrs. White is beyond grief stricken by her son’s death. When Mrs. White wants to wish her son alive again, her grief overrides her thinking.  The reader does understand that she loves her husband and son very much. 

The Father

Mr. White is the  man who buys the monkey's paw, and then wishes for two hundred pounds from it in order to pay off the loan on his house. Initially, he thinks that it is a complete waste of time, but by the end of the story, Mr. White is convinced of the paw’s powers.

Mr. White falls from a basically happy life to one full of fear, doubt, guilt, and loneliness when his son dies and his wife breaks down. A kindhearted man, he is eager to please his wife and son. 

When his son dies and his wife breaks down, Mr. White seems to have lost everything that he loved.  However, Mr. White rises to the occasion when he makes his last wish and returns his son to the grave.

[Mr. White] was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. ...knocks reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage against the door. 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. 

This may represent a major turning point for Mr. White. He will have to be strong for the both of them.

The story’s theme involves the realization that a person cannot get something for nothing. Yet, when Mr. White makes his wish for money, it ends up costing him his son's life. No matter how innocent Mr. White's wish was, it came with a price.

Offering three wishes sound good; however, even Morris warned the family about using the “paw.” Regardless of the danger, man has always been willing to take the chance to see if he is able to acquire the big prize for no cost. It usually does not work.

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