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 the monkey's paw influence Mr. and Mrs. White in "The Monkey's Paw"?

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As Morris warns the Whites in the beginning of the story, use of the Monkey's Paw brings with it tragedy. These warnings certainly are fulfilled, as that initial wish destroys their family.

As this story opens, the Whites seem to be a happy and functional family unit. But when Mr. White makes the first wish for the two hundred pounds, that happiness will be shattered. Later the next day, they will receive the two hundred pounds they had wished for as compensation for the death of their son, who had been killed at work.

This news has a deleterious effect on the two parents. Both are grieving, but in her grief, Mrs. White fixates on the Monkey's Paw in the hopes that it will bring her son back. Thus, she demands that they use it again—this time to revive the son they had lost.

There is a desperation and intensity at this point of the story as the wife pressures her husband into acceding to her wishes. Later, when they hear knocking at the door, it seems as if the wish has been fulfilled.

At this point, the wife is driven by an intense hope and fervor at the thought of having her son returned to her, while her husband is concerned with the thought of just what kind of cruel turn that second wish might have taken. Thus, he uses the final wish, undoing the effect of his second.

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Initially, Mr. White is intrigued by the idea that his three wishes will be granted by the mysterious monkey's paw and takes a risk by wishing for two hundred pounds to pay off his home. In contrast, Mrs. White is skeptical about the authenticity of the monkey's paw and does not believe that it is actually magic. When her husband insists that the monkey's paw moved in his hand, Mrs. White tells him that he is imagining things. At the beginning of the story, Mr. White is portrayed as a risk-taker, while his wife is depicted as a cautious woman.

The next day, the Whites receive news that their son Herbert has been tragically killed at work and they collect two hundred dollars as compensation for his accident. Herbert's death drastically alters the trajectory of Mr. and Mrs. White's life, impacts their perspective on the monkey's paw, and influences their personalities. After Herbert's death, Mrs. White firmly believes in the paw's powers, and Mr. White views it with caution. He realizes that the monkey's paw is a malevolent source of evil, while his wife views it as a way to bring her son back to life. After Mrs. White wishes for Herbert's return, her husband pragmatically makes a wish to send Herbert back to the grave moments before Mrs. White opens the door. The monkey's paw influences Mr. and Mrs. White's personalities and perception of its magical nature. While Mrs. White becomes an unhinged, desperate woman in grief, her husband begins to act cautiously. Both individuals also believe in the magic of the monkey's paw by the end of the story and wish for different things.

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The characters of Mr. and Mrs. White seem to change in opposite ways in W.W. Jacobs's short story "The Monkey's Paw." In the beginning of the story, Mr. White appears to be something of a risk taker. First, the narrator claims Mr. White was involved in "radical changes" when it came to playing chess with his son Herbert. He tended to risk his king by putting the piece "into such sharp and unnecessary perils." Second, Mr. White takes a chance that the monkey's paw is indeed some magical charm and buys it from Sergeant Major Morris. Unknowingly, the procurement of the talisman puts his family into peril. On the other hand, Mrs. White appears cautious and conservative. She is initially repulsed by the monkey's paw, but later seems to regard it as insignificant. She even joins Herbert in making jokes about it: "Sounds like the Arabian Nights. . . Don't you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?"

After the evil of the monkey's paw is revealed when Herbert turns up dead and the couple is awarded two hundred pounds, the old man and woman change in different ways. In her grief over the loss of her son, Mrs. White becomes the gambler, insisting that Mr. White make another wish for Herbert to come back to life. In contrast, Mr. White becomes cautious and realizes the thing he wished for will not ease his wife's grief. Finally, he acts conservatively by wishing away the walking corpse that bangs on their door before his wife can let it in. Because of the evil which has pervaded their lives, Mr. and Mrs. White undergo "radical" changes in their willingness to take risks.

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