Sergeant-Major Morris, an old acquaintance of Mr. White and former co-worker, came to visit the family on a dark, stormy night and showed them a monkey's paw he had brought back from India, where he served for twenty-one years. Morris told them the talisman supposedly had the power to grant the owner three wishes, but that the wishes could bring serious troubles. Mr. White at first was afraid of the thing, but then he became curious and covetous. When Sergeant-Major Morris impulsively threw the paw into the fireplace, Mr. White retrieved it. Morris advised White to throw it back, but White wanted to keep it. Later White confessed to his wife that he had insisted on paying Morris a small sum for it. This fact seems significant because it firmly validates White's third and final ownership of the paw. Only he can make the three wishes.
"Did you give him anything for it, father?" inquired Mrs. White, regarding her husband closely.
"A trifle," said he, colouring slightly. "He didn't want it, but I made him take it. And he pressed me again to throw it away."
White only gets possession of the monkey's paw because Morris threw it in the fire. Since Morris has deliberately discarded it, the paw could belong to the person who retrieved it. But Morris might have still have had a claim to it until White insisted on paying him "a trifle" for it. Then White is obviously the owner, since he had bought it from the previous owner. The author includes this bit of exposition in order to make it clear that neither Mrs. White nor their son Herbert nor can do anything with the paw.
Mrs. White might wish for something truly fantastic. The author did not want to get into the fantastic.
"Sounds like the Arabian Nights," said Mrs. White, as she rose and began to set the supper. "Don't you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?"
Youthful, imaginative Herbert White might wish for something truly magical, such as a million pounds or a palace full of servants. The author, W. W. Jacobs, did not want the story to go in that direction either. It would, as Mrs. White suggested, "sound like the Arabian Nights." This was to be a story about very simple people getting three wishes in an ordinary little English household. Mr. White wishes modestly for two hundred pounds.
The reader is hooked by the premise because he can't help wondering what he would do if he had three wishes. It is easy to find out. Anyone is free to make three wishes or a hundred wishes. What would you wish for?