The Monkey's Paw by W. W. Jacobs

The Monkey's Paw book cover
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At a Glance

  • Sergeant-Major Morris, an English soldier who brings the enchanted monkey's paw back from India.
  • Mr. White, an ordinary, conservative man whose curiosity leads him to wish on the paw despite warnings from Sergeant-Major Morris.
  • Mrs. White, a loving, reserved woman who asks her husband to bring their son back to life.
  • Herbert White, who dies in a factory accident.

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Characters

(Short Stories for Students)

Father
See Mr. White

Morris
See Sergeant-Major Morris

Sergeant-Major Morris
Sergeant-Major Morris is the catalyst for the story: he brings the monkey's paw to the Whites' home. He is "a tall, burly man, beady of eye and rubicund of visage," whose eyes get brighter after his third glass of whiskey at the Whites' hearth. Morris is both familiar and exotic. Morris and Mr. White began their lives in approximately the same way; Mr. White remembers his friend as ''a slip of a youth in the warehouse," But in his twenty-one years of travel and soldiering, Morris has seen the world and has brought back tales of "wild scenes and doughty deeds; of wars and plagues and strange peoples." Morris also carries with him the monkey's paw, which changes all the Whites' lives forever.

Mother
See Mrs. White

The Other
See The Stranger

The Stranger
The last character to appear in ''The Monkey's Paw'' has no name. He is the messenger of death— the company representative sent to tell Herbert's parents about the death of their son in a terrible accident at work. On one level, Jacobs paints a realistic portrait of this man; Mrs. White notes that he is well dressed, and that he seems very nervous, hesitating at their gate, and picking lint from his clothes before he delivers his horrible news. However, on another level, the writer keeps this character anonymous: the man never gives his name, and his face is not described except as "perverted." In this way, the character works as a symbol of death or fate.

The Visitor
See The Stranger

Herbert White
Herbert White lives with his elderly parents and gets along with them quite well. He works at a local company called Maw and Meggins. Like his father, he is good-natured and reliable.

Despite this steadiness of character, Herbert is also a little bit silly. He is the first to ask Morris whether the old soldier used three wishes himself, and Morris looks at him ''in the way that middle age is wont to regard presumptuous youth." He teases his parents about wishing on the monkey's paw, goading his mother into chasing him around the table, and his father into making the first wish. He remains skeptical and flippant about the paw's powers: '"Well, I don't see the money," said his son as he picked [the paw] up and placed it on the table, 'and I bet I never shall.'" A bit later in the story, Herbert jokes, "I expect you'll find the cash tied up in a big bag in the middle of your bed."

Like his father's failings, Herbert White's irreverence is perfectly understandable. This quality even contributes to why Herbert is so likeable. However, when Herbert dies a horrible death, ''caught in the machinery" at Maw and Meggins, it is suggested that his death is related to his refusal to take the powers of the monkey's paw more seriously.

Mr. White
Mr. White is a conservative, satisfied man who enjoys his quiet domestic life. Jacobs shows this in the very first scene in the story, which opens with father and son playing chess in their cozy cottage on a rainy night, while Mrs. White, knitting by the fire, comments on their game. Clearly, the Whites live a contented, if somewhat contained, life. Later in the story, the grandest thing Mr. White can think of to wish for is to clear the mortgage on their little house.

White does have reckless tendencies, though. In the first paragraph of the story, in the chess game with his son, he puts his king "into such sharp and unnecessary perils that it even provoked comment'' from his normally docile wife. This recklessness leads him to tempt fate with the monkey's paw, endangering his family as a result.

Mr. White is a kind of "everyman."...

(The entire section is 1,106 words.)