In "The Monkey's Paw," how does each of the Whites react when first hearing the legend of the monkey's paw ?
Sergeant Major Morris tells his curious audience the following about the paw:
"It had a spell put on it by an old fakir, a very holy man. He wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow. He put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it."
The Sergeant-Major told the story with such conviction that all three the Whites realised that their slightly jovial attitude was out of place for the issue was a serious one.
Herbert was the first to respond and he thought that he was being quite clever by asking Morris why he did not make three wishes himself. He clearly does not take the story seriously and continues to mock the entire idea of the paw having such supernaural properties. He later emphasises his cynicism by saying:
If the tale about the monkey's paw is not more truthful than those he has been telling us, ... we sha'nt make much out of it.
Why, we're going to be rich, and famous and happy. Wish to be an emperor, father, to begin with; then you can't be henpecked.
He also tells his father:
If you only cleared the house, you'd be quite happy, wouldn't you?. ...Well, wish for two hundred pounds, then; that 'll just do it.
Herbert takes his mother's lead and his cynicism is pertinent. Ironically, it is this suggestion which results in the gruesome sequence of events later.
Mrs White is quite intrigued at first and repeatedly asks the Sergeant-Major questions about the paw and what he did with it. She obviously wants to know more. Later, she however adopts a flippant attitude and makes fun. She says:
Sounds like the Arabian Nights, ... Don't you think you might wish for four pairs of hands for me?
She is suggesting that the entire tale sounds like a Middle-Eastern fairy-tale and therefore cannot be true. Her suggestion about wishing for four pairs of hands is an explicit declaration of her disbelief.
Mr White comes across as the one most profoundly affected by Sergeant-Major Morris' supernatural tale. He at no point makes fun of the paw's supposed powers. The depth of his intrigue and interest is indicated when he grabs the paw out of the coals in the fireplace when the Sergeant-Major throws it into the fire in order to destroy it. He is also the one who asks the most insightful questions, such as:
If you've had your three wishes, it's no good to you now, then, Morris, ... What do you keep it for?
If you could have another three wishes," said the old man, eyeing him keenly, "would you have them?
Mr White seems to have believed most of what the Sergeant-Major said and he appears determined to put the paw to the test, in spite of Morris' warning. He actually does make a wish. At Herbert's suggestion, he wishes for two hundred pounds to clear his bond, even though he expresses some doubt. This wish is to become horribly true later.
Mrs. White withdraws from the paw at first, not wishing to touch it. Later that evening, she treats the subject lightly, joking that her husband might wish for an extra pair of arms. Her levity reveals that she does not fully believe in the paw's power.
Mr. White is amazed by the story and potential of the paw. In fact, when Morris throws the paw onto the fire, White wants it so bad that he snatches it off the fire. He truly believes in the paw's magic.
Herbert-- Incredulous, but intrigued, Herbert's reaction is at first joking--to wish to be an emperor-- but then a practical one, advising his father to wish for two hundred pounds.