Why did the fakir cast a spell on the monkey's paw?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Since Sergeant-Major Morris did not get the monkey's paw directly from the Indian fakir (or holy man), he does not have to be too specific about why the fakir wanted to do what he did. This is really just a story device used to explain why the paw supposedly has such magical powers. The only explanation that Morris gives is contained in one brief paragraph.

"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."

So all Morris really knows about the holy man's motivation is that "he wanted to show that fate ruled people's lives, and that those who interfered with it did so to their sorrow." This seems like a strange thing to want to show and a strange way of going about showing it. Only a very few people would ever receive the paw or the lesson. It seems that the holy man could have done better by preaching a sermon to a large assembly. 

We might question the validity of the old fakir's belief. It seems to mean that everything that will ever happen to each one of us is already foreordained. In that case, why should we make any effort to improve ourselves or to do anything. Maybe we should all sit around on the ground like that old fakir and do nothing but beg for a bowl of rice for our one meal per day. 

The fakir is not essential to the story. W. W. Jacobs passes over it quickly. It was something that happened long ago and far away. Jacobs does not even insist that the monkey's paw has any magical qualities at all. Later in the story Mr. White reminds his wife of something Sergeant-Major Morris told them the night before.

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

The things that happen in this story might be attributed to coincidence. Their son Herbert might have gotten killed at work because he had stayed up too late and had drunk too much whiskey with their interesting visitor. The fact that the company paid the father and mother two hundred pounds, the amount White had wished for, could be a pure coincidence. They never know for sure that it was their son Herbert knocking at the door in response to the second wish. And they never know whether the third wish made Herbert go away or whether some stranger just got tired of knocking and left.

Was W. W. Jacobs' story intended to prove that people should not wish for things they haven't got? Or was it intended to be just a scary ghost story? The effect the story leaves on the reader is one of horror, what the French call a frisson. That may have been all Jacobs intended. If so, he was extremely successful in achieving his intended effect. "The Monkey's Paw" is a horror classic.

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