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

How does the author of "The Monkey's Paw" use foreshadowing in the first chapter to suggest that the spell placed on the paw might not bring happiness to whoever possesses it?  

Expert Answers

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

The author of "The Monkey's Paw" uses the words and behavior of Sergeant-Major Morris as ominous foreshadowing of what is likely to happen to the person who possesses the mummified paw on which an Indian fakir supposedly placed a spell. Here are a few examples of how Sergeant-Major Morris foreshadows what is to come.

"The first man had his three wishes. Yes," was the reply; "I don't know what the first two were, but the third was for death. That's how I got the paw."

"If you don't want it, Morris," said the other, "give it to me."
"I won't," said his friend, doggedly. "I threw it on the fire. If you keep it, don't blame me for what happens. Pitch it on the fire again like a sensible man."

"Hold it up in your right hand and wish aloud," said the sergeant-major, "but I warn you of the consequences."

The reader is certainly prepared to expect something very bad to happen if Mr. White makes his three wishes. In fact, something strange and uncanny seems to happen even as he is in the process of making his first wish, thereby augmenting Sergeant-Major Morris' foreshadowing of evil. White drops the monkey's paw with revulsion and explains to his wife and son:

"It moved," he cried, with a glance of disgust at the object as it lay on the floor. "As I wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake."

Mr. White's experience may have been nothing more than his imagination intensified by his being startled by the crashing chord Herbert played on the piano at the moment he made his first wish. Throughout the story the reader can never be quite sure that the monkey's paw has any magical power at all. As Mr. White explains in Part II of the story:

"Morris said the things happened so naturally," said' his father, "that you might if you so wished attribute it to coincidence."

All of the foreshadowing at the beginning of the story is apparently intended by the author to prepare the reader to believe that the results of Mr. White's three wishes are not coincidences but the granting of those wishes by some supernatural power. The reader, however, will never know for sure and is left wondering.




Approved by eNotes Editorial Team