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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What is Mr. White's 3rd wish?

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Mr. White's first wish is for two hundred pounds. Unfortunately, this wish comes true through the death of his son, Herbert, whose death causes the family to be compensated with two hundred pounds.

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The author does not spell out Mr. White's third and last wish, but the reader can easily imagine what the old man wished for. He wished for the knocking to stop and for the knocker to go away forever.

A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage against the door. He heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment he found the monkey's paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.

Mr. White is under extreme pressure. His wife is trying desperately to open the door in the firm belief that it is her son Herbert outside. Mr. White believes it too. He is having trouble finding the monkey's paw with which he intends to make his third wish before his wife gets the door open. He probably would be unable to formulate his wish in precise words. No doubt he would have said something like, "I wish he would go away forever!" Those words would probably be sufficient to do the trick--assuming it really was Herbert returned from the grave and knocking for admission. The reader, of course, will never know whether it was Herbert or some stranger lost in a dark, unfamiliar area and trying to get some kind of help. Whether it was Herbert or a stranger, the wish has the desired effect.

The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house. He heard the chair drawn back, and the door opened. A cold wind rushed up the staircase, and a long loud wail of disappointment and misery from his wife gave him courage to run down to her side, and then to the gate beyond. The street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road.

The author has built up such a feeling of horror that the average reader probably believes it actually was the Whites' dead and mutilated son standing on the other side of the door and doing all that terrifying knocking. In fact, the reader can almost visualize what Herbert looks like! If the knocker had only been some ordinary human being, why and how did he disappear so quickly? The Whites should have been able to see him on the road. There is something about a loud knocking at our door that frightens most of us. We can imagine all sorts of things.

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What was Mr. White's first wish?

In W. W. Jacobs's celebrated short story "The Monkey's Paw," Mr. White saves the malevolent monkey's paw from the fire and makes a wish on it shortly after Sergeant-Major Morris leaves. As Mr. White holds the monkey's paw, he tells his family that he is not sure what to wish for, because it seems like he has everything he needs. Mr. White is a modest, humble man who possesses no grand designs and does not desire to elevate his status in any way. Herbert then suggests that he ask for just enough money to pay off the house. Mr. White takes his son's advice and proceeds to wish for two hundred pounds while holding the monkey's paw.

Immediately after making his first wish, Herbert crashes the keys on the piano to frighten his father, who screams in terror. Herbert meant to scare his father, but Mr. White insists that the monkey's paw twisted in his hand "like a snake." Little do the Whites know that the first wish will have disastrous consequences and result in Herbert's tragic death.

The next day, Mr. and Mrs. White receive the terrible news that their son died in a work-related accident and are awarded two hundred pounds from Herbert's company. After Herbert is buried, Mrs. White connects her son's death to the monkey's paw and begs her husband to make a second wish, which leads to the story's suspenseful ending.

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