In "The Monkey's Paw," how is the happy and condensed family ruined?How The third wish marks the climax of story

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lsumner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The White family was happy and content until the Sergeant stops by with the monkey's paw. The father and son had been enjoying the evening playing chess. The mother sat by knitting, content. She was teasing her husband about losing at chess to his son. 

The Sergeant stops by and has a story to tell. He has a monkey's paw that will ruin the White family's lives. The Sergeant tells how a monkey's paw has magical powers, but the three wishes will cause much grief. He even throws the monkey's paw into the fire. Mr. White scoops it out of the fire. 

Mr. White's son, Herbert, encourages his father to wish for money to free the family of the mortgage on their home. Due to an ironic turn of events, Herbert's death brings in the money to pay off the mortage. 

A week later, Mrs. White insists that they make the second wish for her son to be alive again. Not really thinking, Mr. White wishes Herbert alive again. 

As a knock comes at the door, Mr. White realizes that his son will be a mangled body since he was in a machine accident. Due to this fact, Mr. White wishes for Herbert to be dead again. 

No doubt, the family is ruined by the events connected with the monkey's paw. What seemed to be an exciting, fantastic happening turned out to ruin the White family's lives. If only the Sergeant had not stopped by, the White family would still be happy and content. 

eyeofhorus | Student

Though I'm not certain what you mean by "condensed" - do you mean "content" as in happy? - the seemingly affable family life enjoyed by the Whites is ruined. The question to ponder is whether it is their own greed and selfish desires which ruins the family or the cursed paw.

I would argue that, quite simply, it is the former because as the story demonstrates, 'You get only what you wish for!' As a magical talisman, the paw seems to be able to respond to a person's wish and is not itself inherently wicked or good.

In fact, the history of the paw as given by the visiting soldier in the narrative suggests to the reader that while a person will receive what they wish for, the circumstances in which you may receive the wish may not necessarily be pleasing. Hence why the soldier reveals that the previous owner of the paw's final wish was "for death."

Herbert innocently wishes for a sum of money to free his parents from their mortgage - a seemingly selfless wish which would dramatically improve the quality of their lifestyle. However, the fact that they receive that financial sum by way of compensation for Herbert's death in an accident at work is devastatingly ironic.

The mother's second wish - "I wish my son alive again" - is a natural but selfish desire. Her son had been interred in the ground and the process of decay would have begun; as detached observers, we can imagine the horrifying sight of a rotting, zombie-like corpse staggering towards the family home. However, Mrs. White - blinded by grief - has not entertained this idea, naively assuming her son will return from the grave unchanged.

Hence, the father's incredibly difficult dilemma at having to wish his own son "dead" once he realises that the 'thing' knocking at the door is not the son whom they loved before his accidental death, but a monstrous, rotting corpse resurrected on a selfish whim by parents blinded by grief.

No wonder the family is "ruined" by the end of this marvellous little tale!