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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How do Mr. White's wife and son first react to the story about the monkey's paw?

Initially, Mrs. White and Herbert both react to the story of the monkey's paw with skepticism and even ridicule.

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Mrs. White and Herbert react to the story of the monkey's paw with humor. Neither appears to quite believe in the power of the paw when Sergeant Major-Morris tells them of its power. Mrs. White says the paw sounds like an enchanted item out of the Arabian Nights and jokingly says they should wish for more pairs of hands for her. When Mr. White later claims the paw moved in his hand when he made a wish, Mrs. White doubts this. Her skepticism is gentle but ever-present in these first scenes, illustrating her sensible and maternal characterization.

Herbert assumes an even less reverent attitude, coming off as flippant when talking about the paw with both Morris and his parents. He makes clever comments while Morris is sharing his story and continues to joke about the paw once it is in the possession of the family. It is he who suggests they wish for money. When the wish is not immediately granted, Herbert heaps scorn upon the legend of the paw, claiming they will never see a single scrap of the money. Even when his father claims the paw moved, Herbert does not relent in his irreverence:

"As I wished, it twisted in my hand like a snake."

"Well, I don't see the money," said his son as he picked it up and placed it on the table, "and I bet I never shall."

"It must have been your fancy, father," said his wife, regarding him anxiously.

He shook his head. "Never mind, though; there's no harm done, but it gave me a shock all the same."

They sat down by the fire again while the two men finished their pipes. Outside, the wind was higher than ever, and the old man started nervously at the sound of a door banging upstairs. A silence unusual and depressing settled upon all three, which lasted until the old couple rose to retire for the night.

"I expect you'll find the cash tied up in a big bag in the middle of your bed," said Herbert, as he bade them good-night, "and something horrible squatting up on top of the wardrobe watching you as you pocket your ill-gotten gains."

Ironically, the money does eventually come, but in the form of compensation for Herbert's death in a work-related accident, making both his and Mrs. White's initial skepticism tragic.

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