In "The Monkey's Paw," what does the paw do immediately after the first wish? What can you infer from this?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The story is told in such a way that the reader is never sure whether the mummified paw actually possesses magical powers or whether what happens is a result of mere coincidence.

"Morris said the things happened so naturally," said his father, "that you might if you so wished attribute it to coincidence."

Mr. White agrees to wish for just enough money to pay off the mortgage on their house. His son, treating the whole thing as a joke, strikes "a few impressive chords" on the piano as his father holds up the shriveled paw.

"I wish for two hundred pounds," said the old man distinctly.

A fine crash from the piano greeted the words, interrupted by a shuddering cry from the old man. His wife and son ran toward him.

"It moved," he cried, with a glance of disgust at the object on the floor. "As I wished it twisted in my hands like a snake."

The fine crash from the piano was created by Herbert, attempting to lend an ominous aspect to the occasion. The unexpected piano chord may have startled Mr. Wilson and caused him to imagine the paw moved. On the other hand, the paw may have twisted to signify that it had understood and would grant the wish.

On first reading it seems likely that the reader will believe, as does the father, that the monkey's paw has a life of its own and that it can and will grant the father's wish in one way or another. This is a foreshadowing of something that is going to happen, and naturally the reader is curious to see whether the wish will be granted and whether it will bring the kind of misfortune the sergeant-major warned the family against.

The fact that Herbert is killed the very next day could be caused by the monkey's paw. On the other hand, the family stayed up late that night because they had a visitor from a far-away land who told them interesting yarns and left them with a strange memento.

. . . the door closed behind their guest, just in time for him to catch the last train.

That train could have left as late as midnight. So if Herbert stayed up beyond his usual bedtime and consumed more than his usual amount of whiskey during the evening, he could easily be sleepy and groggy at work the next day; and this would explain how he becameĀ  careless and got dragged into the dangerous machinery and horribly mangled. It may have been because of the terrible nature of his death that his company decided to pay his parents the compensation of two hundred pounds, although:

"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 reader is left uncertain until the very end of the tale whether the monkey's paw really possessed any magical powers or whether what happened was mere coincidence.The prolonged knocking at the door late in the night might have been their horribly mangled son Herbert returning from the dead--or it might have been a motorist whose car had broken down on the highway.

After the father says, "I wish my son alive again,"

The talisman fell to the floor, and he regarded it fearfully.

However, he does not claim that he felt it move. Then when his wife is trying desperately to unbolt the door,

. . . he found the monkey's paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.

The author does not say whether or not the paw moved--but the knocking stopped suddenly, and there was no one outside when his wife opened the door.