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 are the three wishes & the consequences in "The Monkey's Paw?" 

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While the first two answers portray the Whites as making the first wish in “The Monkey’s Paw” as a joke, I disagree.  The Whites are driven by greed and ambition, just as most people are.  It may be that they do not fully believe that the paw will grant their wish, but they cannot prevent themselves from wishing.  It is sort of like buying a lottery ticket knowing that you will almost surely not win, but being unable to forego the chance.

To show that this is the case, we can see at least two pieces of evidence from the story. First, when Sergeant Major Morris throws the paw on the fire, Mr. White cries out in astonishment and grabs it out of the fire.  You do not reach into a fire to rescue something that you think is a joke.  Second, Mr. White forces money on Morris in exchange for the paw.  If you really think something is a joke, you are not going to force someone to take money for it when they are already ready to burn it.

In whatever spirit the first wish is made, it is for two hundred pounds.  Herbert White suggests this particular amount because it would be enough to pay off the mortgage on their house.  The consequence of this wish is that the parents get the money, but that Herbert dies.  He is killed in an accident when he is “trapped in the machinery” at his workplace.  A man from the workplace comes and gives them the money as compensation.

The next wish stems from the first.  Ten days later, Mrs. White realizes that they have two wishes left and could use one to bring Herbert back from the dead.  She pushes her husband until he gives in.  As the story tells us, “He raised his hand. ‘I wish my son alive again.’”  The consequence of this is that Herbert’s corpse is (apparently) reanimated.  All we know for sure is that some hours later something starts knocking on the Whites’ door in the middle of the night.  We never “see” what is knocking, but the Whites are sure it is Herbert. Mrs. White thinks Herbert will be normal again, but Mr. White does not.  He remembers that Herbert was mangled beyond recognition in the accident and he knows the corpse has been rotting for 10 days.  He is sure that the knocking is coming from Herbert’s corpse, and not from a Herbert who has been brought back to life as he was before the accident.

Just as we are not told for sure what is knocking on the door, we do not know for certain what the third wish is.  Mrs. White has been getting a chair so she can open a bolt on the door that is too high for her to reach.  Mr. White is frantically looking for the paw because he does not want “the thing outside” to get in.

He heard the creaking of the bolt as it was slowly opened, and at the same moment he found the monkey’s paw and frantically breathed his third and last wish. The knocking stopped suddenly, though it still echoed in the house.

When Mrs. White opens the door, there is no one there and the road is quiet and empty.  We can assume that Mr. White wished for his son to return to the dead and that the consequence of his wish was that Herbert did so.

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The Monkey's Paw tells the story of Mr. and Mrs. White. They come into possession of a magical monkey's paw. The monkey's paw is said to have the power to grant three wishes, but Mr. and Mrs. White are warned that their is a price that comes with the wishes. 

While at first the White's don't believe in the monkey's paw, they decide to make a wish anyway. Mr. White wants 200 pounds to pay off his house. They jokingly make the wish and go to bed. Their son, Herbert, gets up to get ready for work. He goes to work and has an accident at work and dies. Mr. and Mrs. White are notified and it is known that Herbert has insurance through work. The amount of the insurance is 200 pounds, exactly the amount the White's wished for. The White's are thrown into a great depression. Mrs. White can't seem to get over the loss of her only child. She asks Mr. White to make a wish for their son to come back to them. Mr. White is uncomfortable in doing this, but for the sake for his wife, he makes the wish. In the night Herbert comes back to life and makes his way home. He is heard banging on the door, to get inside. Mrs. White is thrilled to have her son back, but Mr. White realizes that Herbert has not come back as their son. As Mrs. White makes her way to open the door for her son, Mr. White makes his final wish. He wishes that his son was still dead. When Mrs. White opens the door, she opens it to find no one there.

The whole story is a story about the consequences of being careful what you wish for. Mr. and Mrs. White, had made very selfish wishes, and in the end they realize the error or their ways, but at the cost of the one thing they loved the most.

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The first wish made by the Whites is made in laughter and little hope - they don't believe in the paw, but are drawn to wish anyway, for the fun.  Mr. White wishes for 200 pounds.  The consequence is that Herbert is killed in an accident at work and the family receives the 200 pounds in compensation.

The next wish is made is all seriousness and from a place of grief.  At the request of Mrs. White, Mr. White wishes for Herbert to be alive again.  Herbert awakens in his grave, climbs out, and comes home to bang on the door and be let in.

The last wish is made out of fear.  Mr. White, scared of what his living dead son will look and be like, wishes for Herbert to return to the grave.  When Mrs. White gets the door open, Herbert is gone - the wish has worked.


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