What are Mr. White's motivations, traits, actions, and reactions in the story "The Monkey's Paw?"

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ophelious eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is actually a pretty big question with a lot of parts...what you are really asking for is a character analysis of Mr. White.  I'll try to point you in the right direction, but you are going to have to put the pieces together yourself : )

MOTIVATIONS: Mr. White is sort of your "average guy," one who seems to enjoy his home life and the simple pleasures it brings.  He seems to like being a good host, as evidenced by his treatment of the Major.  When given the chance to make his wish, he isn't sure what to wish for...

"I don't know what to wish for, and that's a fact," he said slowly. It seems to me I've got all I want."

He seems a little interested in proving the monkey's paw to be a fake, but mostly he is motivated by preserving his family and his cozy way of life.

Traits: He seems to be a rather rational man who is not taken to superstition.  Still, he also understands when he has been given adequate "proof" of something to change his mind:

"I dare say," said Mr. White, pouring himself out some beer; "but for all that, the thing moved in my hand; that I'll swear to."

"You thought it did," said the old lady soothingly.

"I say it did," replied the other. "There was no thought about it;"

He has a thin grey beard, showing his advancing age.  He is not as emotional as his wife (as seen by his forethought to undo the second wish, while his wife was willing to go through with it) and therefore proves himself to be a reasonably logical thinker.  Despite this, he is also a person who can be influenced by others...he doesn't want to wish his son back alive, but does so at the insistence of his wife.

Also, notice the way that he forces money on the Sgt. Major for the monkey paw, even though the man says he doesn't want it...that's a bit of honor at stake, there.

ACTIONS: Mr. White's actions are the most important ones in the story:

  • The Sgt. Major is his friend to begin with, allowing for the events of the story to take place,
  • He is the one who asks about the paw,
  • He is the one who saves the paw from the fire,
  • He is the one who makes all the wishes,
  • He is the one who sends Herbert "back."

The other characters are not nearly as "active" when it comes to driving the plot.

REACTIONS: Mr. White reactions are based more on logical thinking than those of his wife.  He reacts to the Sgt. Major's monkey talk with skepticism, along with his first wish.  But notice the way he reacts to the movement of the monkey paw in his hand.  He understands evidence when he feels it and is not convinced by the others that he imagined it.  White reacts to situations with more control and forethought than his wife.

Hope these ideas help, and you can put them together with some of your own to create a coherent character analysis.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mr. White was the third and final owner of the talisman in W. W. Jacobs' short story "The Monkey's Paw." He plucked it from the fireplace when the previous owner, Sergeant Major Morris, tossed it there to burn and end the chain of misfortune that came with it. He is motivated mostly by curiosity, since he seems happy with his life and is financially secure.

     Mr. White took the paw from his pocket and eyed it dubiously. "I don't know what to wish for, and that's a fact," he said slowly. "It seems to me I've got all I want."  

Mr. White is a contented retiree who enjoys his home life with his wife and son. He does like to take the occasional risk, however, as he proves earlier with a reckless move while playing chess and with his desire to possess the paw despite Morris's warnings. He also is quick to follow others' advice; when Herbert suggest, half jokingly, that he wish for 200 pounds, he immediately does so. He reacts with great surprise when the paw twists in his hand. When he receives word of his son's accidental death and of the amount received as a settlement, he falls to the floor in grief. But when his wife suggests that he wish his son alive again, he once more follows his wife's command. Again, he realizes his mistake when he hears knocking at the door and concludes that it is his son returning from the grave. This time he acts on his own, and uses the paw's third and final wish to make "it" disappear, and the knocking ceases. Only a deserted road is visible beyond the gate.  

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The Monkey's Paw

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