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The sergeant-major who is visiting the Whites tells them very briefly what little he seems to know about the history of the monkey's paw.
"It had a spell put on it by an old fakir," said the sergeant-major, "a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it."
The author, W. W. Jacobs, may have only been seeking to lend verisimilitude to a story with the age-old theme about someone who has three wishes and usually ends up regretting all of them. The old fakir may not have been intended to be taken too seriously. Evidently what the statement about fate means is that everybody's entire life story is already predetermined and cannot be changed. The story may or may not prove that this is true or that the fakir actually had the power to put such a spell on the mummified paw. Everything that happens as a result of Mr. White's wishes could have a rational, rather than a supernatural, cause.
Mr. White receives a two-hundred pound indemnification for the death of his son Herbert. It seems strange that Herbert should have been killed by a factory accident the very next day. But everyone stayed up later than usual because they had a visitor, and father and son probably had one or two more drinks than usual just because they stayed up later and were entertaining Sergeant-Major Morris. Jacobs makes a point of the fact that the three men were consuming quite a lot of whiskey.
At the third glass his eyes got brighter, and he began to talk, the little family circle regarding with eager interest this visitor from distant parts, as he squared his broad shoulder in the chair and spoke of strange scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange peoples.
After Mr. White takes possession of the monkey's paw, ". . . the three sat listening in an enthralled fashion to a second installment of the soldier's adventures in India. The sergeant-major leaves "just in time for him to catch the last train." Jacobs seems to be highlighting that this was an unusual occasion and that the family stayed up very late.
If Herbert stayed up late and drank more than usual, and if he works in a shop full of dangerous machinery, it is understandable that he might have been sleepy and inattentive when he was caught in the machine. The monkey's paw might have been indirectly responsible for his death, but not through supernatural intervention. The fact that the Mr. White got the two hundred pounds he wished for could have been coinciental. He would have gotten some money from Herbert's employer. And the knocking at the door at night could have been a stranded motorist wanting to use the telephone.
If fate predetermines everything that will happen in everyone's life, then fate must have predetermined that Herbert would be killed on the job and that the Whites would have been given two hundred pounds compensation. It would seem that that legend supposedly attached to the monkey's paw was mainly intended by W. W. Jacobs to establish a mood of uncanniness, which he accomplishes so successfully. The reader is left wondering whether the events had natural, rationally explicable causes or whether they were a form of supernatural punishment for daring to interfere with fate.
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