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 does each of the Whites react when the family first learns about the monkey's paw?

When they first learn about the monkey's paw, Mrs. White and her son are full of questions as to who has benefitted from having their wishes granted. Mr. White shows his keen interest in the paw by pulling it out of the fire after Sergeant-Major Morris has thrown it in.

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The short story "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs begins on a cold, wet, and windy night. The White family is in the parlor of their home. Mr. White and his son Herbert are playing chess while Mrs. White watches. They are interrupted by a visit from Sergeant-Major Morris, who tells them stories about his many years in India. Eventually, Morris begins to tell the Whites about a mummified monkey's paw that he obtained from an old fakir. He calls it "just a bit of what you might call magic," but then, he goes on to tell of a spell upon it that gives three men three wishes each. According to Morris, the first man's third wish was for death. He also does not seemed pleased about the three wishes that he used. After telling about the paw, Morris abruptly throws it into the fire.

At this point, we see the initial reactions of the three family members. Mr. White snatches it out of the fire and seems eager to try it out. Morris suggests that he throw it back on the fire but then tells Mr. White that to use it, he should "hold it up in [his] right hand, and wish aloud." At this point, Mrs. White is about to serve dinner. She jokingly suggests that Mr. White should wish for "four pairs of hands" for her, and the Whites all laugh. It is obvious that none of them have yet taken the monkey's paw seriously. Morris urges Mr. White that if he must wish, he should "wish for something sensible."

After Morris leaves, the Whites still seem to be skeptical about the power of the monkey's paw. Herbert suggests frivolously that Mr. White wish to be an emperor, and then he suggests that Mr. White wish for 200 pounds so he can pay off the house. When Mr. White makes his wish, he is shocked that the paw moves as he holds it. Herbert, still skeptical, supposes that they will never see the money. They are all depressed as they go off to bed.

In the morning, Mrs. White dismisses the monkey's paw as nonsense. Mr. White, though, is uncertain, as he considers what Morris said about how the wishes were granted. We see, then, that initially Herbert White frivolously laughs about the power of the paw, Mrs. White calls it nonsense, and only Mr. White is uncertain about what the paw can really do.

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The first we hear of the monkey's paw is when Mr. White reminds the sergeant-major that he had mentioned something about the artefact a few days previously.

While the sergeant-major quickly tried to change the subject, Mrs. White was the first to react and asked to hear more about it. When she sees the mummified little paw, however, she finds it unappealing and draws back immediately. Her initial reaction to the paw, before hearing of its powers, was one of disgust.

The Whites' son, Herbert, on the other hand, took it and examined it carefully. We can imagine him trying to work out what on earth could be so special about an ancient paw.

Mr. White's reaction was similar to that of his son. After Herbert had examined the paw, Mr. White took it from him and also examined it, before putting it back on the table.

Their reactions change somewhat when they learn about the power of the monkey's paw. Herbert and Mrs. White are immediately full of questions as to who has had three wishes granted. Mr. White showed the strength of his desire to know more about the paw by reaching into the fire to retrieve the paw after Morris had thrown it onto the fire, intending to destroy it.

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When Sergeant-Major Morris initially tells the story behind the magic monkey's paw, Mr. White and his son are intrigued by the story. Both Mr. White and his son, Herbert, ask Sergeant-Major Morris several questions regarding the monkey's paw, its origins, and its history. While both Mr. White and his son find the monkey's paw fascinating, they are not positive that the paw is actually magical and want to find out for themselves if Morris is telling the truth. Mrs. White does not believe that the monkey's paw has any magical powers and dismisses it as being pure fantasy. After her husband recovers it from the fire, Mrs. White comments, "Sounds like the ‘Arabian Nights'" (Jacobs, 3). Herbert then encourages his father to make a wish and suggests that he wish for two hundred pounds to pay off the mortgage. Mr. White considers Herbert's suggestion and casually wishes for two hundred pounds. Suddenly, Mr. White feels the monkey's paw move and his wife insists that it was simply his imagination. Herbert also reveals his doubts about the magical powers of the monkey's paw before heading to bed. Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. White discover the dark truth behind the monkey's paw as their worst fears come to fruition.

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In "The Monkey's Paw," the Sergeant-Major shows the White family a monkey's paw that he says has magical powers. Mrs. White's first reaction to the paw is one of disgust. She doesn't seem to put much value into what the Sergeant-Major says about the paw and even jokes that her husband should wish for her to have four hands.

Herbert takes the paw from the Sergeant-Major's hand to look at it more closely. After their guest leaves, Herbert shares that he doesn't think the Sergeant-Major has been truthful in his tale about the monkey's paw and feels that "we shan’t make much out of it." However, he does participate in helping his father decide on a first wish.

Mr. White asks the Sergeant-Major if he has made his three wishes. He confirms that he has made three wishes and then tosses the paw into the fire. However, Mr. White quickly retrieves the paw and asks if he can have it. Cautioned by the Sergeant-Major to destroy it, Mr. White instead asks how to make a wish.

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The White's have three different responses. Herbert, the son, is very interested and thinks of immediately becoming rich and famous. Mrs. White doesn't seem to take the paw too seriously. In fact, she likens it to something from Arabian Nights. Mr. White is, at first, just mildly interested, but he is the character who takes it from the fire and decides to keep it!

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