Why does Sergeant-Major Morris throw the monkey's paw in the fire?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After the White family hears Sergeant-Major Morris's history of the monkey's paw, young Herbert White asks:

"Well, why don't you have three, sir?"

The reader is left to guess from the sergeant-major's reaction to the question what his three wishes might have been and how they might have turned out for him.

The soldier regarded him in the way that middle age is wont to regard presumptuous young. "I have," he said quietly, and his blotchy face whitened.

He probably has a blotchy face from too much exposure to the sun in places like India and from too much drinking. When his face whitens from strong emotions, the effect would be striking. Obviously the results of his three wishes have left the man with a fear and loathing for the mummified paw. That is why, after a little more conversation he threw it in the fire:

He took the paw, and dangling it between his front finger and thumb, suddenly threw it upon the fire.

His host snatches it out of the fireplace and begs to keep it:

"If you don't want it, Morris, give it to me."

Morris warns him against using it, telling him to be sensible:

"Pitch it on the fire again, like a sensible man."

The sergeant-major's attitude toward the monkey's paw foreshadows troubles for Mr. White and possibly for his whole family. The reader is curious to see what White will wish for, whether his wish will be granted, and whether the fulfillment will lead to unforeseen harmful consequences.

By keeping the paw even after having made his three wishes, the sergeant-major shows he must have considered the possibility of passing it on to one last person, since the holy man had made the spell good for the use of three separate men:

". . . put a spell on it so that three separate men could each have three wishes from it."

Morris may have been hoping that at least one man could get some good out of the thing without having to suffer uncanny side-effects. It seems he may not be entirely convinced that the paw possesses supernatural powers. The bad luck that has been experienced by himself and the first owner of the paw may, after all, have been mere coincidence. But he decides against passing it on and intends to destroy it in the most effective way possible, by letting it burn to ashes, though Mr. White interferes.