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

The Monkey's Paw

by W. W. Jacobs
Start Free Trial

Compare Mr. White's feelings about the monkey's paw when he makes his first, second and third wishes. How does his attitude change?

When Mr. White first hears about the magical powers of the monkey's paw, he does not believe the story and casually wishes for two hundred pounds. After his son's death, Mr. White remains incredulous but reluctantly makes a second wish. By the time Mr. White makes his third wish, he recognizes the paw's nefarious magical powers and is terrified to use it. Mr. White only makes the third wish to spare his wife from seeing their undead son.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Initially, Mr. White does not believe Sergeant-Major Morris's story about the monkey's paw and its magical powers. After rescuing the paw from the fire, Mr. White struggles to think of what to wish for and eventually uses the paw to wish for two hundred pounds to pay off his home. Mr. White wishes upon the paw with a carefree attitude and has no intention of actually receiving the money. Once Mr. White makes his first wish, the paw suddenly moves in his hand, which frightens him a little bit. Despite the small scare, Mr. White highly doubts that the paw has magical powers and is unaware that his life will dramatically change for the worse.

After Mr. and Mrs. White learn about their son's tragic death and receive two hundred pounds as compensation from Herbert's company, Mrs. White finally makes the connection between her husband's wish, the monkey's paw, and their son's death. When Mrs. White instructs her husband to retrieve the monkey's paw to make a second wish, Mr. White remains incredulous and says that Herbert's death was simply a coincidence. At this point in the story, Mr. White remains skeptical and does not fully believe in the paw's power but is hesitant to test his wife's theory. Mr. White refers to the paw as "foolish and wicked" before he wishes for Herbert to be alive again.

Once Mr. White hears the sound of a knocking at the door later that night, his entire outlook on the monkey's paw changes. While Herbert's zombie corpse is at the door, Mr. White recognizes the paw as a nefarious object directly responsible for their tragic circumstance. Mr. White also realizes the gravity of the situation when his wife attempts to open the door and barely manages to make his third and final wish. Fortunately, Herbert's zombie corpse disappears and the Whites do not meet their undead son.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When Mr. White makes his first wish for two hundred pounds to pay off his mortgage, he does not believe that the monkey's paw will actually work. He casually makes his wish in a light-hearted manner because he is unaware of the paw's malevolent magical powers. After his son dies and they receive two hundred pounds as compensation, Mrs. White remembers her husband's first wish and urges him to use the paw again to wish for Herbert to come back to life. Mr. White is hesitant to make a second wish because of the disastrous outcome of his first wish. However, Mr. White reluctantly makes the second wish and is suspicious that it will come true. When he hears a knocking at their front door later that night, Mr. White realizes that the second wish has also come true and hurries to make a third wish. By his third wish, Mr. White truly believes in the monkey paw's malevolent magical powers and frantically wishes for Herbert's corpse to return to its grave before his wife can open the door. Overall, Mr. White goes from casually making his first wish to desperately making his third wish to prevent his wife from seeing their son's decaying body. His attitude regarding the monkey's paw dramatically changes when he realizes that it does indeed have magical powers. By the end of the story, he fears the monkey's paw and regrets making his first and second wishes.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When Mr. White makes his first wish he does not have much faith in the power of the monkey's paw. He did, however, pay Sergeant-Major Morris a small sum of money for it, so he must have some small credence. He makes a wish for two hundred pounds at the suggestion of his son Herbert. His first wish is modest because he wants to test the paw. The fact that he makes such a modest wish shows that he does not have much faith in the thing. He is aghast at the outcome. His modest wish for two hundred pounds is apparently granted, but at the cost of his son's horrible death at the textile mill.

Mr. White has no desire to make another wish. He is afraid of the monkey's paw because of the consequences of his first wish. But at his wife's insistence he wishes for his son to return to them. Now he is hoping against hope that the paw has no real power and that his wish will not come true. After all, the idea of a shriveled paw possessing any power to grant any kind of wish is fantastic. He tries to make himself believe it must have been a pure coincidence that he received two hundred pounds as compensation for his son's fatal accident.

When Mr. and Mrs. White hear the knocking at their door, both of them feel sure that it is Herbert who has returned to them from the dead. But only Herbert's mother wants to let him in. Herbert's father doesn't want to have to look at his son, who must be a monster. Mr. White had previously told his wife, when she forced him to make his second wish:

"He has been dead ten days, and besides he--I would not tell you else, but--I could only recognize him by his clothing. If he was too terrible for you to see then, how now?"

By the time he makes his third wish, Mr. White loathes the monkey's paw but believes completely in its supernatural power. He uses it to cancel out his second wish, so to speak, and seems to succeed in causing the person outside to stop knocking and go away. The paw has now lost its power, if it ever had any, because the Indian fakir had only specified three wishes for three owners, and Mr. White was the last owner. So there would be no way of testing the paw further.

The reader is left to wonder whether that was really Herbert knocking at the door or some stranger who finally gave up and went away just as Mr. White was making his final wish.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team