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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In "The Monkey's Paw," how does the first wish come true?

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Throughout the story it is impossible to know for certain whether the Whites' wishes were granted by some supernatural force or whether they were nothing but pure coincidences. The monkey's paw cannot be blamed for Herbert's being caught in the machinery the following day. There is a logical explanation. The whole family stayed up later than usual because they had a visitor. This would mean that Herbert drank a little more than usual that night and got less sleep because of staying up perhaps two or three hours later than usual listening to their interesting visitor. So Herbert could have been more careless and less alert at work the next day. The accident was indirectly due to the monkey's paw but not directly. That, in fact, is the scary part of the story. It could have something to do with blind cause and effect rather than some omniscient and omnipotent hidden power. The fact that the representative of Herbert's employers pays a visit is not supernatural. Someone would be expected to visit the Whites' to pay condolences. The fact that the company pays them the exact sum that Mr. White wished for could easily be a coincidence. If he wished for an odd amount, such as 187 pounds, then it would seem strange indeed if the company sent a check for that amount. But he wished for a round figure, and they would have paid a round figure of one hundred, two hundred, three hundred--but not much more! Then when there is a knocking at the door in the middle of the night, they assume that it is Herbert returning home in answer to their wish. But it could have been a motorist wanting to use their phone or to ask directions. It takes a long time to get the door open because Mrs. White can't reach the top latch and Mr. White doesn't want to open it at all. The knocker is gone, but he could easily have given up and left after getting no response. Many happenings in life seem mysterious and magical.

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When Mr White foolishly tests out the monkey's paw by wishing for £200, he and his son joke about how it will be found wrapped up on top of some dusty item of furniture. Yet the real truth is far more disturbing and sinister. Instead of being found somewhere or coming into the Whites' possession without any real cost on their part, the £200 comes to them at such a massively disproportionate price it emphasises the full horror of the money's paw and what it does. The £200 is given to them by the company where their son works as a token of sympathy because of their son's terrible death when, the very next day, he was trapped in the machinery and died. Note what the messenger from the company says:

"I was to say that Maw and Meggins disclaim all responsibility," continued the other. "They admit no liability at all, but in consideration of your son's services they wish to present you with a certain sum as compensation."

The "certain compensation," as Mr and Mrs White are terrified and appalled to hear, is of course precisely £200. The truth of what they had been told about the monkey's paw, that it was meant to show humans the folly of trying to interfere in their fate, is shown to be completely just.

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