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 a summary of "The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs?

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"The Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs is a strange tale about the White family, who make three wishes on a monkey's paw. All of their wishes come true, but not in the way one might expect. The story starts with Mr. White and his son Herbert playing chess while Mrs. White looks on. They are waiting for a visitor, who soon arrives. The visitor, Sergeant-Major Morris, brings with him tales of exotic places he has been to in his travels, and eventually the stories turn to one of a talisman he has with him, a shriveled up monkey's paw.

"'It had a spell put on it by an old fakir' said the sergeant-major, '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'" (Jacobs 4).

Morris ends up leaving the paw with the Whites after telling them that he, like one man before him, had his three wishes, but he warns them that the wishes they make will likely have dire consequences.

Still, Mr. White is fascinated by the paw and sheepishly makes a wish for enough money to pay off their mortgage. The Whites laugh about it when nothing happens. However, the next day, Herbert is killed in a machine accident at work, and his employer gives Mr. and Mrs. White exactly the amount they had asked for. 

Of course the Whites are devastated and blame themselves. Mrs. White has the idea of wishing their son back, and Mr. White does it reluctantly, but then he realizes that his son will come back mangled and in pain. The Whites hear a knock at the door, and as Mrs. White runs down to answer the door, Mr. White finds the paw and makes one last wish--that Herbert will be dead and back in his grave.

"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 streetlamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road" (Jacobs 17).

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